Editor's note: Coaches and players constantly search for an edge through the most modern ways. More and more teams focus on technology as a key to success.
What's happening at West Virginia University is a good example of what's happening across the country. This is the fourth part of a 5-part series.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One of Marlon LeBlanc's best achievements as West Virginia's men's soccer coach is his relative dominance of Connecticut when the Mountaineers were members of the Big East Conference.
The Huskies have won three national titles in their time and were long considered a premier Big East program. Since LeBlanc's arrival at WVU in 2006, UConn won two conference regular season titles and one conference tournament title. The Huskies went 83-24-22 in that time and made the NCAA Tournament all six years.
Yet LeBlanc was 4-1-1 against UConn from 2006-11 and beat the Huskies twice when they were ranked No. 1 and once when ranked No. 7.
Before LeBlanc, WVU was 1-11-2 against the Huskies.
"UConn was one of those teams that connected a lot of passes all game long over and over again and it would frustrate teams," LeBlanc said. "We found a way around that."
When LeBlanc says "we," he refers to his players and his coaches, but also to the himself and his laptop. That last commodity holds a priceless program that's unlocked the secrets to WVU's success. It's called Prozone, a statistics and scouting software popularized first internationally and booming now in the United States.
Prozone shares a lot in common with the Data Volley program used by WVU's volleyball team. It tracks and records every act in a soccer match and then organizes them into a sortable, searchable database that coincides with animated or video evidence.
"It's an unbelievable coaching tool," LeBlanc said. "The game is the greatest teacher and what you need to work on next week comes from what you did the previous game, but for me to look at this, I am far better now at analyzing accurately what happened in a game because I'm just so used to using this and taking what we learn and giving it to the players."
Finding an edge
Rather than explain what it does, witness LeBlanc's best example of what the Mountaineers, or any subscribers, can do with Prozone. LeBlanc studied what Prozone reported about UConn - individual and team tendencies and the results of specific player-to-player passes - and constructed a scouting report.
"UConn made a lot of passes that didn't go anywhere," LeBlanc said. "You could see it on (Prozone). A lot of their action happened in the back. What they typically did was wait for the other team to come out and then exploit them. What we did was say, 'Guys, here's where UConn wants to play. We want to keep them in front of us and let them play all day in that area.' "
The Mountaineers would maintain a distance from the UConn defenders and never intrude beyond 30-or-so yards out from the goal. That kept the Huskies from getting into the midfield and finding and facilitating "individual playmakers who would absolutely destroy you when you got the ball," LeBlanc said.
WVU further isolated one of UConn's four defenders in the back. Of the two defenders in the middle, the one on the left (the left center back) didn't like having the ball and was right-footed. When the ball went to him, WVU reacted by focusing their attention to its right side.
"Typically their left back and left center back would link up and the left back would work that sideline all game long," LeBlanc said. "When the ball got to the left center back, you could see he almost always found the center midfielder and the center midfielder would then play it out to the left back."
By maintaining the distance from the goal, WVU took away the left center back's pass to the center midfielder and forced a pass to the left back.
"He was so bad with the ball and the passes were so sloppy that we squeezed and pressed him and totally eliminated the way they wanted to play," LeBlanc said.
In the six matches against the Huskies, WVU had five clean sheets - or shutouts, in a language other than soccer's.