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Alani Bilal, left, and Josh Clements (Courtesy photos)

“Seasoning” & “skill” spice up experienced Nederland soccer club

The Nederland Bulldogs have a strong group returning to the soccer field in 2020, coach Keith Barrow said, since teams in prior seasons had their share of younger players. Those players now have “seasoning” behind them, Barrow said.

“I think this year ought to be better than the last two,” Barrow said. “We’ve got some experience, and we’ve got some guys who’ve seen a lot of time on the Friday night lights, and we have a good little freshman that came in and he helped us out in the 3-2 win over East Chambers. So adding him to what we already have, I think, is going to be pretty good for us.”

The Bulldogs’ season began Thursday with the defeat of East Chambers at the Port Neches-Groves tournament, breaking open a tie game in the last 10 minutes.

“We jumped out early and got two good goals in the first half, and then we kind of got a little sloppy in the second half and gave up two,” Barrow said. “It was a good first outing, but you know, they were a good team and they exploited us in a few areas that we see we’ve got to work on.”

The Bulldogs later lost to West Brook 2-0, tied Crosby 1-1 and beat Hamshire-Fannett 7-2 at the tournament.

Defensive organization is one of the areas the Bulldogs could work more on, Barrow said, including connecting passes when winning the ball in the back, connecting passes coming out and starting the attack.

“Once we get started we’ve been doing pretty good at finding our forwards, finding our target players and keeping possession in the middle third,” he said.

Freshman Alani Bilal, whose hat trick in the East Chambers game got Nederland its season-opening win, is expected to do great things for the Bulldogs this year.

“He’s been a good surprise for us,” Barrow said. “I kind of didn’t see him coming, and he’s done a really good job. He had two goals in our scrimmage against Kelly.

“I don’t know much about him from before he got to the high school. I know he was a kicker for the football team at the middle school, and he’s actually Syrian nationality. He doesn’t look and play like a freshman. He’s thick. He’s got some good upper body strength, he’s got a good soccer’s mind and knows how to play the game.”

Among the returners, senior goalkeeper Josh Clements has several games under his belt. Barrow believes Clements will be a good backstop to keep the Bulldogs competitive.

“If the sequence breaks down, he’s got the ability to be a good savior for us back there,” Barrow said.

The experience of the team as a whole is something Barrow says is going to be one of the Bulldogs’ assets.

“I’m hoping the strength of our junior class that’s been there since they were freshmen will help,” he said. “We have a handful of kids that have been on the team, and they know what to expect from me and from each other. We’ve tried to be a lot more controlled and a more possession-oriented team, and they have the skill to do it.”

That experience is going to be needed to overcome some of the tough teams Nederland will play early in the season.

This weekend Nederland travels to play in the Kline Showcase, competing against Pasadena Sam Rayburn, Waller and Westfield, all three of which were playoff teams last year, Barrow said. The following weekend the Bulldogs play in the Waller tournament, which will include private school KIPP Houston, which Barrow says has a lot of international players.

“Most of our games are against 6A teams, playoff teams and state contenders in the 6A division, so I don’t really get too concerned with our records coming out of these tournaments as much as I care about how we’re playing against those top quality teams,” Barrow said. “So hopefully we can compete well and find out where we are as we go through these tournaments and get to know ourselves a little better.”

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