Spruce Mountain junior forward Jack Gilbert (4) scores a goal as Winthrop goalie Jake Smith tries to intercede and Tyler Smith (2) trails during a Class C boys soccer game in Jay last year. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Several high school soccer coaches believe that a seven-on-seven format just might keep some schools, which are having difficulty maintaining an 11-man team, in the game.

Monmouth Academy girls soccer coach Gary Trafton and Mt. Abram boys coach Darren Allen agree that the Maine Principal’s Association’s consideration of a seven-on seven venue might just be a solution to teams experiencing a lack of numbers.

MPA assistant executive director Michael Bisson said the idea of seven-man soccer teams is being discussed by the organization.

“The discussion point started a year before last when were in our classification cycle, and we actually started a conversation about that and we were moving into (eight-man) football,” Bisson said. “We started a smaller sided conversation around soccer.

“We didn’t dare make the leap with four classes and we wanted to see how football played out, but it is still on our agenda.”

Bisson said there are several things to consider before moving to a seven-on-seven format.

“Certainly, every year we have schools that call the week before before soccer starts and say they are not going have a team,” Bisson said.

He said teams struggling with having an adequate number of players will ask about going co-ed or forming a co-op to field a team.

“Eventually, we lose one or two soccer programs on the boys side or the girls side,” Bisson added. “A lot of times it happens to the really small schools, like Aroostook County and Down East. That is how it came to committee, and we took it very seriously and still do.

“One of those concerns comes from some of those larger Class D schools that have done well, and if they lose a bunch of the teams they play, now they are looking at the Class C ranks to play some of the larger schools.”

“Some schools just don’t have the numbers,” Allen said. “We play schools all the time and they don’t have JV squads and they have barely enough to field 11 when you play them.

“If you noticed, there has been a lot of blowouts the last couple of years. You have an inexperienced kid thrust right to varsity, and you have other teams that are so far ahead, it is just a blowout. Yeah, I am a huge proponent (of seven-on-seven soccer).”

Bisson said the MPA will be meeting on this subject in July.

As far as turnout numbers go, Allen’s Roadrunners have always been in the blue thanks to a strong soccer tradition and a little help from the absence of a football team at Mt. Abram.

“It hovers around between 30 and 40 (players each season),” Allen said.

He added that the seven-man teams mean more soccer athletes with less time on the bench. Allen said that format also might prevent teams from folding, and that those seven-man clubs could play in a separate league.

“Teams won’t fold,” Allen said. “One of the issues is kind of like a domino effect — if your team keeps losing and losing, kids aren’t going to be excited to go out for that team. 

“If you are part of a seven-on-seven team, and when you are playing more appropriate competition … one of these teams is going to win and foster some school spirit, and kids will want to play — and the game is not that different at seven-on-seven than it is at 11-on-11. I hate to see schools lose those programs.”

Allen said that there have been instances that Mt. Abram, with its bounteous depth, has faced teams with only one or two subs on the bench.

“I have played games where we played 11-versus-11 and I didn’t have any subs,” Spruce Mountain coach Adam Gettle said. “Seven-on-seven would be nice in that aspect to give an athlete a breather. It is safer that way, but we manage just fine.” 

Gettle said that in seven-on-seven soccer, schools struggling with numbers would have fresh legs, more substitutes and a safer game for athletes. 

Allen added that co-ops often aren’t feasible because many schools, such as Mt. Abram, are so far apart from other schools.

“I talked about this with my athletic director not too long ago,” Allen said. “If we were in that situation, who the heck would we co-op with? There is nobody within miles around of us.”

Monmouth Academy girls soccer Gary Trafton said the Mustangs use a seven-on-seven setup for the junior varsity teams.

“We have 21 kids and that makes it kind of hard to play everybody in a varsity game,” Trafton said. “We’ve done it (seven-on-seven) in the JV games, but our numbers should be pretty good this because Monmouth and Winthrop have combined. Hopefully, we are in the mid-20s this year.”

Trafton would like to see the MPA do what it did for football when it introduced the eight-man format. He said it is almost impossible for 11-man squads to compete on a daily basis with 15 athletes.

“We want more schools and more kids playing — no question about it, and we will do what we can to improve the soccer situation,” Bisson said. “If we are going to do something, we like to do it before the next classification cycle, if we can. We will be working on it this year for the following year.”

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