Despite a number of rules changes prior to the start of the season in response to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, the high school soccer season in central Maine presented itself like most other seasons before it.

The best players were afforded opportunities to shine, area teams played out regional rivalries and a couple of programs even celebrated modified championship titles. On the girls’ side, Waterville’s Paige St. Pierre, Winslow’s Carly Warn, Maranacook’s Addie Watson and Temple’s Hannah Hubbard all earned all-state selections from the Maine Soccer Coaches Association, while Gabe Katz of Messalonskee, Miles Lambke of Skowhegan, Hayden Fletcher of Monmouth and Mt. Abram’s Kenyon Pillsbury and Cam Walters garnered all-state nods.

Even with a number of lost or rescheduled games due to COVID-19 concerns, to the naked eyeball the game looked very much the same.

Slide tackling was outlawed, there were limits on the number of players teams could have in the 18-yard box on corner kicks and restart plays, traditional walls for defending kicks were abolished and there was a break at the 20-minute mark of each half for sanitization.

Of all of the rules changes, the one coaches wouldn’t oppose sticking around for future non-pandemic seasons was the enforced break.

“You can keep your top 11 on the field pretty much the entire game,” said Gardiner boys coach Nick Wallace. “But it also gives you the chance to get guys added rest, too. If you sub a guy (out) a minute before that break, you know you’ll really get him three or four minutes of rest.”


Coaches, particularly in heated rivalry games or in close contests with playoff implications, can often be their own worst enemies. Wallace liked the enforced break as a means for helping keep players — especially those on the pitch for the full 80 minutes (or more in overtime cases) — hydrated and healthy.

Richmond’s Caleb Alexander, right, tries to shield off Temple Academy defender Ryan Paradis during a Sept. 28 soccer game in Richmond. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

“That’s a water break you don’t always get to give them,” Wallace said.

Generally, the 20-minute break rule was embraced by coaches, though there are some caveats.

“If you have a deeper team, you’re losing the advantage of wearing teams down,” Wallace said.

“I liked the rule, especially coaching other sports with timeouts,” Messalonskee boys coach Tom Sheridan said. “But I also don’t want to Americanize soccer too much. It’s the world’s game. Selfishly, I like it and could see them keeping it, but I just don’t want to change the game too much.”

“I don’t think it’s necessary, because our sub rules are fairly liberal to begin with,” Waterville girls coach Mark Serdjenian said. “But for some coaches that meant being able to give a player a five-minute break which didn’t have a devastating effect on the flow of the game.”


While the break is one rule coaches wouldn’t mind having a longer than anticipated shelf life behind the 2020 season, their reviews were notably mixed on other rules. Many looked at utilizing just five offensive players and five defensive players in the penalty area on corner kicks as too radical a change to the game, while others felt as though it didn’t change much of what teams were trying to do.

“I definitely don’t want to see that come back,” Sheridan said. “It limits what you can do offensively and defensively on free kick situations.”

Serdjenian, however, thought the limitations on bodies didn’t have the negative impact some feared it might.

“Even with the walls, for example, there was still an opportunity to put a person at the near post so they couldn’t shoot it in there or making the wall more of a curtain — you only had to be three and a half feet, or an arm’s length, apart,” Serdjenian said. “I don’t think the corner kick business affected much at all.

“Tactically, it made a bigger space to run into. The way I explained it to our players was that if the defense starts with you up top, they’re running the way they don’t want to go (toward the goal). If anything, it gave a little more freedom to attackers to run into spaces, but it really was not a huge advantage either way.”

The ban on slide tackles may not have impacted much, as most coaches are loathe to instruct to defenders to leave their feet to begin with. If that rule continued it’s likely nobody would voice opposition.

“Put that rule in for good,” Wallace said. “From my experience, slide tackles do more harm than  good. I’ve had two kids break ankles because of aggressive slide tackles. Look, if you try it and miss you’re dead and 40 yards out of position. If you try it and get it, nine times out of 10 the ref is going to call a foul, anyway, because the player goes down.”

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