Dixon senior Anthony Deseno stood in an orange cutoff shirt and practiced slick footwork and dribbling in a patch of shade before soccer practice Tuesday afternoon at Reagan Middle School.
Deseno – a team captain – and his teammates are trying to bring a smarter, more tactical finesse style of play to matches this season, after failing to put together many explosive plays a year ago.
The Dukes didn't have a dynamic goal scorer a season ago, and didn't work well enough as a team to create scoring opportunities in key situations. Much like last season, the roster still lacks a go-to player, and that is why the team has been working on passing.
"Last year, a lot of the work was geared toward conditioning," Deseno said. "This year, we're working on passing the ball quick, and being able to control it and make the right play."
Deseno and fellow seniors Alex Gates and Taz Kuster hope to lead a new style of play this season that involves aggressive crossing passes and having more touches, which should lead to better shot selection.
"We have no superstars," Gates said. "It's because of that we have to think more about the team, so we don't go through those tough stretches."
Dukes coach Mahmoud Etemadi noticed that his team played too selfishly a year ago, and saw players trying to do it all themselves.
The result was an offense that only used the middle of the field, and Etemadi wants to be able to use the whole field and spread out his players.
Crossing passes work best, if they catch an opposing defender out of position, which happens more often when the defense has to shift. It's basic soccer knowledge, but Etemadi has watched his team slip away from the fundamentals in previous seasons.
"We have always had decent players, but no one that could be that finisher," Etemadi said. "We have played pretty constant, but we hope that if we can involve more players, we can close out games better."
A glaring example of not being able to finish matches came during the playoffs last season. Rival Sterling ended the Dukes' season with a 1-0 win in the regional semifinal match. Sterling finished with a 15-4-4 record, and made it to the regional title match, where it lost to Freeport, 5-0.
Much like the regular season, Dixon couldn't create an opportunity, and relied too much on individual performances. Luckily, Etemadi has had more than enough support in changing the offense.
The Dixon boys soccer team attends a summer tournament in Moline in July each year, and this season had more players participate than he knew what to do with.
"It was great to see the guys come out this year," Etemadi said. "In past years, we have been scrambling for players. It made this year a lot easier to start practice already trying out what we set out to do."
The next time the Dukes get a chance to play Sterling again comes Sept. 20, a rare Saturday home game, and Dixon hopes play with a style that hasn't been seen before.
"Our practices have been a lot more team-oriented," Kuster said. "We have been working a bunch on connecting passes and moving side-to-side. We're not necessarily learning new skills, but refining them and playing how we know we can play."
Did you know?
Sterling has knocked Dixon out of the playoffs in 2 of the past 3 years – in 2011 and 2013. The Dukes didn't a score a goal in either match.