The Mountain State is home for WVU men’s soccer coach Daniel Stratford — the Englishman has lived in the state for the better part of two decades, most of which has been spent playing for and coaching the Mountaineers in Morgantown.
In the middle of it all, however, Stratford made a six-year stint at the University of Charleston to coach, taking his first head coaching gig between 2017-2019. There’s no doubt the two-time D-II national champion gaffer left the program in good hands, as they dominated every opponent for a 10-0 record and an MEC Championship in 2021, outscoring their foes by a combined 52-5. After that run, the Golden Eagles technically remain the defending national champions despite the lack of a 2020 title, as last year’s tournament was canceled due to COVID-19.
On Saturday, Stratford will reunite with his former team once again — this time, though, the former Golden Eagle head will be on the other end of the sideline as they square off against the Mountaineers in a preseason scrimmage at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
“We feel like we’ve had a good progression of the three preseason games if you like, and obviously finishing and culminating here with a really good test against a really good team with some familiar faces and good friends of mine as well, so that will be nice,” Stratford said.
The Mountaineers already have two preseason games under their belt, starting with a home clash against Duquesne and a trip to Saint Francis. WVU pulled off wins in both, which is a big deal to Stratford, who puts a lot of weight into the importance of preseason momentum carrying into the season opener.
This matchup against Charleston will be different, however. If the Golden Eagles didn’t show that they play above their D-II label last season, they did on Thursday — in a battle of “defending national champions,” they squared off against Marshall (the top-ranked team in Division I) and got out to as much as a 4-1 lead over the Herd. In the end, they took the win, 4-3.
This is just the type of measuring stick that Stratford and company are looking for before kicking their season off on Aug. 26. Three of their first six opponents are ranked in the top 11, including No. 5 Pitt (in Morgantown on Aug. 30) and No. 1 Marshall (in Huntington on Sept. 17.
“It’s the perfect test for us, we have an incredibly difficult start to the season…so we need this game against Charleston,” Stratford said. “We need to be tested, with respect, a little more than Duquesne and a little more than the Saint Francis game.”
As both teams are on the precipice of their season openers, this scrimmage is much more important than the first two. Stratford has been in contact with Charleston coach Daniel Smee — his former assistant — and the duo have come up with a “gentleman’s agreement” to make sure the friendly has more of a real-game feel.
“We shared a bit of information on one another to help with that process and so that our players get familiar with how we go through our scouting process, how we go through setting up and designing certain parts of how we play specific to the other team as well,” Stratford said. “That was as much as we shared. It wasn’t the full scout but enough for us to get a good understanding of what they’re looking to do.”
Of course, the scout on Charleston might be a tad easier for Stratford than it is on other teams. Smee is a product of the Stratford coaching tree, so much of what the Golden Eagles are doing these days is eerily similar to what they were doing under WVU’s new coach. This is quite apparent at training — while his team runs 11-on-11, Stratford is running up and down the pitch like a referee, giving directions to his scout team on where a hypothetical Golden Eagle would position himself given the situation. That’s not unique to the coach (or even the sport), but it’s quite clear that Stratford is well-informed on Charleston.
This upcoming matchup with Charleston is also a reunion for WVU graduate transfer Adam Burchell, another Englishman who was originally recruited to the Golden Eagles by Stratford. After helping the Golden Eagles to its second national championship in 2019, he led the team in scoring with eight goals in 2020-21 en route to an All-MEC First Team selection. After he finished his third season with the team, he took the trip north to join Stratford at WVU.
“I’m happy to have him here now playing with me again, and I’m sure that there will be a little added incentive for him when he gets his opportunity tomorrow,” Stratford said.
Kickoff between West Virginia and Charleston is set for 7 p.m. ET at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.