By: Spencer Kowitz, Assistant SID
CLEVELAND, Ohio – In his first year as head coach of the Cleveland State men's soccer program, Kirk Harwat has the team off to its best start in Horizon League play in 15 years.
CSU is 5-4-1 overall although three of its four losses have come to top-50 squads on the road, including two within the top 25. The Vikings are 3-0-1 in League action and lead the League in both shots and corner kicks within League matches.
Harwat was a high-level performer in his collegiate days at Ashland and Akron and went on to play professionally for Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany. That time spent overseas has definitely been something he draws on when instructing his current CSU squad.
"While I was over there I learned from some very high level coaches—tactically, technically and the psychological piece of the game as well," Harwat said. "Every day when we are training [at Cleveland State], I am trying to give our guys pieces of what I learned while I was over in Germany."
Although Harwat continues to introduce items he learned in Germany to his players, Cleveland State has not experienced success this year due to a significant change in philosophy since he took over.
Cleveland State has not drastically altered the way it plays under Harwat. The formation he has largely utilized has been the same as in previous years. Instead, some of CSU's success this year may be attributed to more straightforward explanations.
Harwat wants to ensure his 11 men on the pitch are working together and working hard.
"It's the biggest challenge in soccer," Harwat said of ensuring that the 11 players on the field are playing as one unit. "There are 11 guys on the field and if you only have 10 guys working together and clicking, then you are playing a man down."
When asked about CSU's recent good run of form that has seen it win three straight and lose once in the past six matches, senior co-captain Alec Nagucki immediately discussed the squad's team play.
"We have a bunch of different personalities on this team and our coaches' ability to kind of get us all to gel and play well together and have good chemistry on the field. I think that's what has been kind of a boost and getting us in our stride here in the middle of the season."
Harwat noted that he's constantly trying to get his squad to understand not just the role of each player, but how that role fits in to the team functioning as a unit.
"We try to reiterate that in training and get the message across to our guys how important it is to pay attention to all the details every day to make sure they are getting that connectively down with the guy next to them, the guys in front of them and behind them. If they are doing that on a daily basis, hopefully it will translate in a match."
Nagucki and fellow co-captain Hesham Hammouda also shared one other observation about Harwat as head coach.
"As a head coach, he is pretty intense," Nagucki said. "He has a very competitive mindset which pushes us through every single practice and makes everything competitive. It just makes the games a whole lot easier … having that competition in practice pushes us and makes games that much easier to compete.
"The best thing about him is he hates to lose, so he makes us all want to win," Hammouda said.
Cleveland State has a tough string of matches upcoming, including trips to Akron, a top-25 foe, along with League matches at first-place Green Bay and defending League champion UIC.
His two captains, though, appear undaunted at the upcoming stretch, mainly due to their ability to maintain a single focus.
"Well we don't want to get too caught up in a win streak, and I think just taking every game one at a time and making sure we're come in focused day in and day out is a big part of it," Nagucki said.
"As I'm telling you, we are just taking it one game at a time," Hammouda said. "Just Milwaukee on Saturday."