Taking over a two-time defending state championship soccer team would seem like an easy coaching gig, wouldn’t it?

Not for Canyon Del Oro High School’s first-year head coach Eddie Autz. Autz’s predecessor, Josh Marshall, had coached the Dorados to two straight titles; he exited en route to Colorado, leaving behind an abundance of challenges.

Autz, a 1st-team All-State player for the Dorados during his days as a student, served as Marshall’s assistant the last two years. Returning to soccer after getting his degree in anatomy, Autz decided to take on the head-coaching position when Marshall departed.

Challenge number one is how to compensate for the loss of Southern Arizona’s Player of the Year for 2009-2010, Donny Toia. Toia, who went to Pima Community College, scored four goals in last year’s state title game win over Sahuaro 4-1. The Dorados (24-2) scored 71 goals. Toia finished with 28 goals and 17 assists.

Challenge number two is how to identify a style of play that fits a team that no longer has a go-to superstar. Additionally, the team has very few players with significant varsity experience. 

“It’s been a long week,” Autz said after the Dorados lost Thursday to Catalina High School, 3-2 in overtime. Earlier in the week, they fell 1-0 at Palo Verde.

The losses drop the Dorados to 8-5-2 with 25 total goals scored. Last year, Toia had a hand (or foot) in 45 goals; scoring more than two goals has been a rarity for CDO this year.

“Defending as a team has been good,” Autz said. “But we can’t win games with just our defense.”

With the speed, ability and technique that Toia displayed, last year’s team was able to employ a 3-5-2 offensive/defensive alignment. The scheme entrusted Toia to take over games offensively, and allowed most of the other players to focus more on the defensive aspects.

Without Toia, the strategy had to change, whether Marshall had stayed or not.

“The 4-4-2 is the best (basic formation) for us,” Autz said. “On narrow fields (like CDO’s) we’re not a direct team. We have to use combination play.”

Does Autz feel pressure succeeding a highly successful coach like Marshall?

“Not really,” Autz said. “Everything comes in cycles. Every year teams change.”

The Dorados have a lot of seniors on this year’s squad, but that stat is misleading.

“We have 13 seniors. But they didn’t play much last year,” the new coach noted.

After graduating from high school, Autz said he chose academics over soccer. He proceeded to dual-enroll at Pima Community College and at the University of Arizona. He earned his degree in anatomy, then realized he missed soccer. He was about to play at Pima when something unforeseen happened — he tore a ligament the day before the season started.

If he wanted to continue with soccer, he’d have to transition to life on the sidelines instead of out on the field. Coaching provided a way in.

What is one of the biggest challenges of coaching high school soccer?

“You have a small amount of time to have players get the chance to click,” Autz said.

Developing the cohesiveness and chemistry that a team needs to be successful is easier at the club level than at high school, he pointed out.

“We need uniformity.”

So how does CDO achieve playoff success in 2011?

“The realistic goal is to finish strong with our final four conference games,” Autz said. “Peaking at the end.

“We need to take it one game at a time.”

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