When I took over the league a little more than one year ago, it was a different place. It had no name. The teams were all identified solely by the colors they wore and the school on the front of their jerseys. The first game I ever oversaw ended with a tight scoreline. It also ended with a fight — caused by students who weren't part of the league — that nearly derailed the entire 2016 season. There was enmity in the league. A deep divide between two of the schools we served. One that affected four of our six teams; more than half of our students.

A handful of players quit the league after the dust up. Some were frustrated by the rivalry, others were upset that their friends has been suspended because of the conflict. It was difficult to keep teams together and on the field, and distrust grew between the students.

The league eventually turned around, and those same schools played a clean, fair match in last year's championship. They played with (com)passion and shook hands like gentlemen when the game was over. Something was changing, and we wanted to accelerate the shift in culture that was brewing around the league. That's when Coach Girau pitched the greatest idea in the short history of Liga HEB.

“We should have an All Star game.”

Come Together, Grow Together

Coaches from all three schools work together to create Liga HEB's  All Star Rosters. (Photo by John Baumann, Central Junior High)

We had a lot to do in our first offseason together, but the All Star Game was my favorite project. This is a chance for us to use the Beautiful Game to build bridges between students who are different from each other, but who share a love (and a talent) for soccer. That's what Liga HEB is all about! Together with coaches from across the league, we developed a system that effectively mixes students from all three schools onto two rosters of seventeen players each.

Each coach made a list of five deserving players from their club, generating a pool of 30 field players. Each school nominated their best goalkeeper, and the 34th and final draft slot was awarded to a ‘keeper based on committee nomination. The coaches were then split into two staffs of three men — with one from each school on each staff — and assigned an All-Star Team, either HEB Green or HEB White.

The opposing coaching staffs took turns selecting their lineups from the field player pool, with HEB Green selecting first. By rule, no team could select more than two players from any club until starting lineups were locked in. Thus, neither All Star lineup skews heavily toward a particular campus. Once the first 24 players were taken, the draft order switched. HEB White made the first selection out of the final 6 field players in the draft. They also got first choice of goalkeepers.

The Rosters

Players from Hurst Junior High huddle up after their match against one another in Week 5. (Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones)

Both sets of coaches had a clear vision for their squad during the draft, and while each side got hold of a few proven goal-scorers, their tactics couldn't be more different.

HEB Green will live and die by the midfield. The Green staff is likely to adopt a 3-5-2 formation, emphasizing possession passing. Coach Girau, who takes the reigns for Green because his Raiders United squad sits at the top of the league table, seized the chance to keep a group of his players together in the center of the field during the draft. His early selections were all midfield players, starting with a duo from RUFC and capped off with a Hurst City winger. Raiders and Hurst City train together after school, so the core of Green's midfield platoon will have chemistry from the moment they hit the field.

Meanwhile, HEB White put together a formidable defend-and-respond lineup. Coaches Bean and Dobbs, whose clubs are in a virtual tie for second place in the league, head up a staff that leans toward the traditional 4-4-2. They drafted with an eye for defense and finishing, splitting their early picks between the league's leading scorers and the sturdiest defenders from each of four different clubs. White will look to spend the game smothering their opponents defensively, then springing a group of skillful, speedy strikers on the counter-attack.

All told, the first All Star match in Liga HEB history looks to be an explosive affair. With so much talent on the field, team success will depend on the individual interpersonal skills that players have been developing since the preseason. That's exactly what we want to see.


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