LINDEN — Carla Silva was excited about her new opportunity. She was eager to get to work as the new head coach for Linden High School girls soccer.
Then, her first season was nearly taken away when the sports world was thrown into doubt by COVID-19.
“I’m excited for the season, really excited,” Silva said. “I was really worried that it wasn’t going to happen. My first year and it’s not going to happen. So the fact that it’s still on and seeing how many girls showed up, and they’re happy, and they want to be here, and they’re ready to go, I’m just ecstatic and looking forward to the season.”
The season was delayed and shortened, and players and coaches need to abide by guidelines to protect everyone’s health and safety. But the games will go on.
“With COVID, it changes things a lot,” Silva said. “Now, you have to be extra prepared with anything that might happen. But it’s been working out great. Just the fact that we’re having a season is great. The girls are very excited about that, because I know they were all concerned with possibly not having a season. My goals for the season is to keep a positive culture, keep them excited and wanting to be there, and to hopefully win.”
Silva served last year as JV coach, after having been assistant coach at David Brearley High School in Kenilworth for three years. She was hired to coach the Kenilworth Bears shortly after graduating from Kean University, but her loyalties were split, because she was hired to be a social studies teacher at Linden High School at about the same time.
“That was very conflicting, to say the least,” she said. “I had all the soccer girls as my students, and they would say, ‘Come to my game!’ and I would say, ‘Well, we’re going to play against you guys.’ But it was still nice, because I got to be a little competitive with my students.”
Then she got a call from athletic director Steven Viana before the 2019 season, offering her the opportunity to join Linden’s program as an assistant coach.
“I was very much in love with Linden and wanted a job here, absolutely,” Silva said. “It was great. I loved it. This time, I actually had my students as my soccer girls, so it was really nice. It was nice to see where the girls were at and try to build the JV program from there.”
Now, just a year later, she has the opportunity to take over as head coach after the retirement of Wayne Mehalick, who headed the program for 27 years.
“Coaching with coach Mehalik was great,” Silva said. “When I got the call, at first, I was a little intimidated, because he’s been here for so long, he’s done so many great things. That’s big shoes to fill. Then I was really excited, because he’s done this much. Now I get to take that and just do more with it. He’s always wanted great things for the girls program, and we can just keep feeding off of that, developing that.”
Viana said he’s looking forward to great things with Silva as head coach.
“Carla has a good vision of where she wants to go with the team, to build a family atmosphere,” he said. “She brings a great awareness and understanding of the game. I know she’s happy to get on the field this year, and we expect big things down the road.”
When Silva was hired in the spring, it took a little while for news to spread to the players, because of COVID-19 and remote learning.
“I got a couple of messages right away, and they were very excited,” she said. “It wasn’t until June, when I had my first meeting virtually and I introduced myself as the new head coach, and some of the girls were like, “What?! Why didn’t you tell me?!” It was nice to get that kind of reaction.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill, so the fact that they welcomed me with open arms was very, very nice.”
Because of the circumstances, Silva hasn’t gotten to know as many of the players’ parents yet as she would have liked but says that will come with time.
“I do hope they are involved, because that’s the program that I want to build,” she said.
As far as her other goals, she wants to take things one step at a time this season, but the goal is to win.
“Counties are still on, states are still on. Going there is definitely the end goal,” she said. “But as long as the girls are enjoying themselves, are learning, are developing as we go on through the season, that’s all a coach can really ask for.”
Looking beyond this season, Silva wants to build a culture of teamwork and success.
“I want to build that climate of bringing varsity and JV together,” she said. “It’s not just two separate teams; it’s one team. We’re the Linden girls soccer program. That’s definitely something I’m working on.
“When I was growing up, Linden girls soccer was on the map. So if I can do that for Linden, that’s where I want to go. I want Linden to be that competitor that I know that we can be. We have the girls for it. It’s just building that drive, getting the girls to connect together. That’s hopefully where we can get in the next few years.”
Right now, she and her players are focusing on staying safe, staying healthy and staying on the field in the year of COVID.
“It’s a short season,” she said, “but a short season is better than no season.”
Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller