Stephen Shirley replaced Kanute Drugan as head coach of the UTD women’s soccer team, becoming the team’s third ever head coach. After a 7-7-2 record in 2022, the program hopes this change will boost them to their first championship since 2002.
Shirley spent most of his life playing and coaching soccer in the United States and in his home country of Scotland. With years of experience under his belt, including time spent playing major league soccer with Sporting Kansas City, Shirley hopes his advanced knowledge of the game will help him lead the young, promising women’s team. However, with almost every player from the 2022 season returning for fall 2023, Shirley said they might struggle to balance the strengths of returning players with the new players of next year’s freshman class.
“With Kansas, I didn’t get to play much,” Shirley said. “So, as a coach, that gives me the perspective that I’ve been the best player on my team and also probably surplus to the requirements. I think it helps me deal with players because … I’ve been in every situation they’ve been in, so when you’re dealing with them, you kind of have that empathy no matter what position they’re in.”
Shirley said the transition to head coach felt natural since he spent the last two years as an assistant for the men’s team under coach Jason Hirsch. Going into the 2023 season, Shirley said he intends to bring changes to the program. After a somewhat disappointing 2022 season, an offseason of change could be exactly what the Comets need to reestablish themselves in the American Southwestern Conference.
“Statistically, we just need to score more goals,” Shirley said. “I’d like to be a little more offensively minded, get players higher up the field, try and generate more … opportunities, use the width differently, be a little more aggressive. I just want to have a fun game to watch … I’d rather win 4-2 than 1-0 … and I think players buy into that, playing a fun style … that’s what I envision because that’s something that I can make sure happens.”
Focus on scoring and playing an up-tempo game should help the Comets, who were far more defensive last season, only scoring a total of 16 goals. Shirley said an offensive approach would help the team capitalize on the talents of stars such as freshman midfielder Janae Shaklee and junior forward Bella Granada, a duo that scored over half of UTD’s goals last season. If the team can successfully develop a stronger offensive game plan while staying as grounded on defense as they were last year, Shirley thinks the team’s 2023 performance could be among the best in recent memory, raising hope for a strong playoff push.
“You never want to put titles on anything, but obviously you want to make the playoffs,” Shirley said. “Every time you go into a season, if you’re not going in with a mindset of trying to win the whole thing, then what’s the point? Of course, that’s your goal, you go in and you want to try and win a championship.”
With the 2023 season not starting until August, Shirley has time to get to know his team better and see exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie. In the meantime, Shirley said he is excited to advance his career at UTD and use this opportunity to combine his love for soccer with his love for the university.
“I just enjoy being at UTD. I really enjoy the school and I think I’ve really felt at home here,” Shirley said.