Oilers enjoying best season in 16 years

Oilers enjoying best season in 16 years (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

Pearland’s boys soccer team has leaned on a battle cry this season whenever things get tough.

“Beat Murphy!”

‘Murphy’ is Murphy’s law, an adage that states “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” In prior seasons, the Oilers crumbled in times of adversity. One red card, one bad call, one defensive breakdown, one missed pass often resulted in shaking heads and slumping shoulders.

Not anymore.

“You’re not focused on the problem,” eighth-year head coach Scott MacNeish said. “You’re focused on whatever is in front of you. You focus on you, and what you can do to get over the hump. The last two playoff games, they did a really good job of that.”

In beating Clear Falls, 3-1, in bi-district and Humble, 2-0, in area—the latter which Pearland played with only nine players in the last eight minutes—the Oilers (15-7-3) are in the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.

Things are finally looking up for Pearland. The Oilers made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season, beating rival Pearland Dawson in the district season finale in a “win or go home” affair. This season, they clinched a playoff berth with two games to spare, and their 15 wins are more than their last two seasons combined.

Pearland plays district foe Strake Jesuit in the regional quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at The Rig in Pearland.

“Last year, we were just happy to be in,” MacNeish said. “Anything else was bonus. This year, we would have been seriously disappointed not to win the first round.

“Now it’s one of those things where I want them to enjoy it and play free. There’s a calm confidence from this team right now. The boys feel they can battle through anything.”

When MacNeish took the Pearland job in the summer of 2014, his goal was simply to make the playoffs. MacNeish, who took over the Oilers after starting the boys soccer program at Pasadena Memorial, took over a lifeless program as the third head coach in three years.

“If a kid is knocking on your door in Pearland, what ball do they have in their hand? It’s probably a football,” MacNeish said. “Whereas in Pasadena, it would be a soccer ball. We just have to promote the game as much as we can.”

MacNeish did that with camps, youth nights and community service projects to help coaches with the Shadow Creek Soccer Club.

But winning on the field did not come right away. During MacNeish’s first three years, Pearland did not win more than five games in a season. From 2018-2020, Pearland won 10 total games.

There wasn’t a lot of pride in the program. There weren’t a lot of kids who played club (only three varsity Oilers did, whereas most varsity programs had at least seven).

“It’s been hard,” MacNeish said. “We went through some rough years when I got here. About five years ago (the 2019 season) was probably our low. We were in last place. We had some cancers on the team. It was just a miserable season. We had to reassess where we’re at.”

MacNeish discussed the state of affairs with assistant Alistair Hughes (who was recently hired to lead Dawson’s program next season) and switched things up. He changed the soccer athletic period from the sixth and seventh periods to the first and second. Kids had to wake up early and practice at 6:15 a.m. before school. That determined commitment level.

MacNeish also started rewarding work ethic with the “Hard worker of the week.” The winner wears a championship belt. He also promoted the program and kids heavier on social media.

“And we got lucky,” he said. “I got blessed with a great freshman class that year in 2018-19. We won one game that year, but the season was one of the best I’d had. You could see the turnaround. Even though we didn’t have the talent, the kids were proud and loved to be there. We were young.”

It’s no coincidence that the Oilers are enjoying their most success in more than a decade with those freshmen now seniors. There are 13 seniors dotting Pearland’s roster, and every one of them, MacNeish said, competes as if “they are out for blood.”

“Every single one of the seniors are leaders, no matter who the captains are,” said senior Thomas McNamara, the team’s leader in points each of the last three seasons and one of two captains along with senior Carlos Galan. “Everyone looks to set a great example for each other and make sure everyone is on the right path. Knowing each game counts as the last game for the seniors … we leave everything we have out there on the field.”

Pearland's 15 wins this season are more than the previous two seasons combined.Courtesy of Pearland boys soccer

On the field, the turning point for the Oilers was the 1-0 district finale win against Dawson last season that punched Pearland’s postseason ticket.

“It was such a monkey off our backs,” MacNeish said. “We didn’t score until the last 15 minutes, had two goals taken away because of offsides. You start to think back to the games where we dropped points, we didn’t do a very good job of holding leads, but the boys hung on, pushed through and won. They were so ecstatic. That was a springboard.”

MacNeish said this season is a culmination of that game. After last year’s 1-0 bi-district playoff loss to Clear Falls in two overtimes, Galan kept a picture on his phone of him heartbroken and devastated as he walked off the field. He used it every day as a reminder to never feel that way again.

“The goal this year was to go further, advance one more round and see what happens,” MacNeish said. “Last year wasn’t enough. We have a lot of seniors and we got hungry.”

That big rebuild MacNeish said he faced when he took the job eight years ago is practically complete.

“Just seeing the hard work we put in, every one of us showed up at practice at 6:15 a.m. just so we can make a difference in the upcoming years,” McNamara said. “This season was one of the best seasons I could’ve ever imagined. We are so happy with everything we have achieved so far together, but we still want to take it a step further.”