Gabe Escobar was doing a little bragging.
“We had the (Great Northern League) coaches meeting the other night and I was telling them about Chelsea Love,” the East Valley girls soccer coach confessed. “I told them that none of them have a player like her.”
Escobar is well within his rights to do a little bragging on the junior two-time All-GNL first-team player. After all, she’s literally played all over the field this season.
A year ago Love was the Knights’ leading scorer – a forward with a nose for the goal.
This year Escobar needed some help in the midfield and moved Love back to help stoke the team’s engine and help set the table.
And then the unthinkable happened. Taylor Morscheck, the team’s senior defender – last year’s defender of the year – injured the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and was done for the season.
And just like that, Love shifted again. Instead of being the tip of the team’s spear, she became the center of the team’s shield.
For a redhead with a burning passion for soccer, the move wasn’t a big deal.
“This team really is like family,” Love said. “For any of us, it’s about what the team needs.”
What Love needed to meet the team’s need was a total shift in her thinking about the game. As a scorer, her mindset was all about exploiting mistakes on the opposition’s defense and putting the ball in the net.
As a defender, she needed to turn that way of thinking on its head.
She had played defense in middle school, so the position wasn’t foreign to her, but it had been a long time since she’d last played there.
“I’m fortunate to be able to play with (first-team All-GNL defender) Hannah Burland, who is a terrific defender,” Love said. “I told her that I was going to have to rely on her to help keep me in position because I was pretty sure I was going to be out of position. And I had Taylor on the sideline to talk to at halftime and that helped me.
“But I have to admit, there’s pressure when you’re replacing a player like Taylor Morscheck. They look at you like, ‘Oh, you’re taking over for her? You must be goooood.’ ”
Offense, though, is a hard habit to break, and Love is quick to jump on opportunities to score. She and Burland both slide forward on set pieces, and each is anxious to find a way to get the ball in the net.
And Love is just as anxious to help her teammates.
“Having played forward so much, I could read what opposing forwards wanted to do. I was able to tell my teammates what to watch out for, where they were going to try to slide to create a play. That helps.”
Love likes the perspective that playing defense gives her.
“The whole field is in front of you and you can see things you can’t see when you’re at forward,” she says with a broad smile. “I just love soccer, and I love watching the way the game flows like that.
“When I see things open up and develop, I speak up.”
The defensive tandem of Burland and Love works well for the Knights. Both were named to the All-GNL first team defense and Burland received defender of the year honors.
But that’s not the end of Love’s wanderings this season.
“We had a game where I needed her to play in goal,” Escobar said, remembering what he’d told the rest of the league’s coaches. “I don’t think there’s another player in this league who could have done what Chelsea has done this year.”
And the Knights aren’t planning to end their season anytime soon.
East Valley (9-3) finished second during the regular season, a game behind league champion West Valley (10-2).
“We really feel like we should be league champions,” Love said. “We’re the only team to win every series this year.”
“The league this year was very tough,” Escobar said. “We played every team three times, and we were the only team in the league to win two games against every team in the league. We beat West Valley in two of our three games.”
The Knights hosts Pullman today in a loser-out game in the first-round of the district playoffs. Clarkston plays Cheney at the same time and the winners of those two games meet Saturday, also in a loser-out game with winner advancing to state.
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