PCHS hires new soccer coach
When last year’s PCHS boys’ soccer coach Jake Jobe decided to go back to school to pursue a PhD, it meant he wouldn’t have the time to fully dedicate himself to the soccer team. Fortunately for the Miners, an experienced coach had just moved to town.
Tom Merchant, who served as an assistant for the girls’ squad last season, will be the new coach for the PCHS boys in 2016. Merchant has coached for more than 25 years and has worked with both male and female club players between the U9 and U19 levels. He was also named the NSCAA/Adidas National Coach of the Year in 2005.
Merchant’s love of skiing brought him to Park City, where he met PCHS girls’ soccer coach Chip Cook by chance and became an assistant with the girls’ team.
"I’ve been coaching for 25 years, but also ran a small business with my wife that gave me winters off," he said. "I’ve been able to ski all winter for 45 years and the last 11 were out here. Then we moved here full-time a year ago.
"I met Chip Cook at ‘Annie 2.’ We had just moved here and we thought, ‘We’ll go to the junior high play. This will be fun.’ We sat next to Chip and the rest is history. I was an assistant for the girls [last year] and just kept moving."
Merchant has more experience at the club levels of soccer, but said he’s worked with plenty of school teams as well.
"My background is as a club coach," he said. "I got sucked in like most guys when their kids start to play. I had played in college [at the University of Delaware], so I thought, ‘You can do this.’ Then they grew up and I didn’t."
Most of Merchant’s experience came on the East Coast. Comparing soccer there to soccer in Utah is difficult, he said.
"[Utah players] are very skilled," he said. "The girls I’m more familiar with, having been with them this season, but they’re very technically skilled players, more so in general than the East Coast, but it’s a different style of play. [Utah] is a great place to be coaching because they have these basic individual technical skills. Team skills still need to be developed, but that’s cool. The school season is very short, so you’re going to try to sculpt these teams with the skills that they have into a team that can play together."
Merchant said having players committed to the game outside of the school season is a big plus for Park City.
"Where I coached in New Jersey, teams would rarely have 11 high school players who were still playing club ball," he said. "You’d be fielding someone like, maybe my left back was weak, but I could cover them. Here, we have all solid clubs. Their skills are very good. I get to try to get all these different parts and try to make it into a puzzle that works."
It’s tough to tell what pieces will fit where at this point in the year. Tryouts officially begin on Feb. 29, so Merchant said he’s only seen players during their preseason work at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse.
"Kids ask all the time what formation we’re going to play and it always depends on who they are and how we play and how we can set it up," he said. "We’ll probably start very straight-forwardly, but as we develop personalities and see what we can do, the preseason gives us an opportunity to [advance] that."
How much success Park City has in 2016 will come down to how well the team meshes in a short period of time, Merchant said.
"I’ve coached teams with 13 great players and struggled to win games more than with teams that cared for each other and only had decent skills," he said. "I think the basis of the team is that they’re willing to play for each other and the town. You also have to enjoy playing or else why in the world are you out there? And from my standpoint, I want to enjoy it, too. We’ll go about it that way and see how it works."
Merchant will be joined by assistant coach Matthew Gilmour from Aberdeen, Scotland; JV coach Chris Wood from St. Petersburg, Florida; and freshman coach Patrick Saucier from New Hampshire.
"We’ve got a really good staff," Merchant said. "Patrick and Matthew both coached for the girls. I’m glad they came on board. Chris Wood is new in town and a teacher at the high school. He coached in Alabama before. It’s going to be a really good crew."
Park City’s season is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, March 9, with a home game against Judge Memorial. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. at Dozier Field.
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The Miners ended up on the wrong side of a close game on senior night but are still fighting for playoff seeding.