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Building the Fever

Ask Philadelphia Fever head coach Stuart Gore what it’s been like since he was named head coach of the Philadelphia Fever and his answer is quick and honest.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.”

Which is understandable when you realize that since being named coach of the new WPSL Elite team in early February, Gore and assistant coach Jamie Scott have been combining their regular work as coaches for Atlantic Soccer Factory with trying to build a competitive team from scratch, all of which means a lot of 18 hour days .

After the initial excitement of being named head coach, Gore says the reality of the situation was quickly apparent: he was coach of a brand new team that didn’t have a single player. “All I had was Jaime,” Gore says with a laugh, “and Jamie can’t play.”

Since then it’s been a case of, as Gore puts it, “everyday counts.”

The social network

From the start, the Fever was conceived as a team that would be NCAA-compliant and so would largely be made up of players who are still in college.

That meant creating a team strategy from the ground up that was summarized simply by Gore as “Getting the right players who can compete at a high level.”

Gore explains that he caught a break in the beginning of the process of finding players for the team through the help of an email list of college players who had expressed interest in playing for WPS before the cancellation of the 2012 season, the act that led to the establishment of the Elite League. He and assistant coach Scott spent a couple of days going through the list identifying prospects but soon realized that, with time short, they would have to rely more on the extended network of contacts they already had through their coaching work at the team’s parent company, Atlantic Soccer Factory.

As Gore says, given the time constraints, “You don’t want to put it out there to a lot of players that you are going to end up saying ‘no’ to.” The need was find players who were ready to go now.

The search for players naturally began locally and resulted in the signing of players like Philly-native and Providence College forward Laura DiClemente, and La Salle freshman Kelsey Haycook, who scored 16 goals for the Explorers in 20 games last fall. Gore has known DiClemente for several years and says of Haycook, “She is a complete sweetheart off the field, on the field she’ll go after anything.”

International gems

That kind of killer attitude is exactly what Gore is looking for in his players. Gore explains, “I’m looking for people who want to prove something, who want to prove the point that they deserve to play on the next level.”

That desire has meant, with the help of the team’s director of recruiting Anthony Clarke, finding players at smaller schools that might otherwise not be on the radar of scouts. One example of such a find is Clayton State and Liberian International Cherie Sayon, nicknamed “the Magic Maker” back in her home country and described by Gore as “phenomenal” and “a complete wildcard.”

But the Fever will also feature some higher profile international talent. Defenders Myriam Bouchard and Molly Allen are two Virginia Commonwealth University products with experience on the Canadian National Team. Bouchard captained the Canadian squad that competed in the 2008 U-20 World Cup in Germany.

Such experience in the back extends to former Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Michele Dalton, who last weekend posted a shutout over Villanova with former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley’s Women’s Professional SuperGroup in the Headers for Hope Tournament in Maryland.

Gotta be flexible

Gore told PSP that the Fever presently have 18 players on the roster, which will probably top off at 24 players. Because so many of the players are still in college, Gore stressed his awareness of the need to be flexible—some of the players are taking summer classes or have summer work obligations. As well, he doesn’t want to return the favor of his fellow coaches in the college ranks approving their players’ participation with the Fever by sending back players at the end of the Elite League season who are too worn out to be able to play college soccer in the fall.

“We need to structure everything so their playing level doesn’t drop when they return to their college team,” Gore says. It’s a delicate balance, but one that is informed by what Gore says is a fundamental understanding. Quite simply, he says,”We need them more than they need us.”

Nevertheless, he knows his players have something to prove against other Elite League teams that are stocked with former WPS professionals.

And Gore thinks that because his players will have been “playing at a high level, coming off of their college spring season,” they just may have an advantage over some of the professional competition, most of whom will have seen little if any competitive play since the fall..

Gore acknowledges the strong history of women’s soccer in the Philadelphia area, from college soccer to the Philadelphia Charge and Independence. He says his players are also aware of that history and that, along with the strong support of Philadelphia soccer fans for the women’s game, it is part of why they want to play with the Fever.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some of the Sons of Ben guys out to our home opener.”

His team will deserve that support.

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