The one-time goalie stood tall in front of the net as the diminutive attacker approached.
Matt Blue had faced plenty of one-on-one situations like this before during his playing days as the starting keeper at Easton High and Salisbury University. Taking an angle, Blue bent his knees slightly and fixed his eyes on the approaching striker.
“Come on. Keep coming,” Blue said. This was not a taunt, but encouragement as the gap between him and the oncoming attacker continued to shrink. Two-year-old Bronson Blue then struck a right-footed shot that had just enough umph on it to roll past his father, who turned and retrieved the ball from the bunched-up netting at the back of the goal.
“Nice shot,” Matt Blue said before sending the ball back to his smiling son with a let’s-do-it-again roll.
Future moments like this couldn’t be missed and were a major factor in Blue’s decision to step down as Easton High’s boys’ head soccer coach after five years.
“Once Bronson starts playing I’d be missing all his stuff,” said Blue, who also has a 12-year-old son, Dustin. “Dustin, I miss all of his football practices, and I started to miss some of his games. Honestly I just wanted to be around my kids.”
Another big reason is due this summer.
“The biggest influence is that my wife Morgan is pregnant and we’re expecting a girl July first,” Blue said. “That was the definite thing that swayed my decision.
“Soccer season for us is always our most difficult time,” said Blue, 36, who made his decision to step down in mid-January. “I’m away a lot, especially when the season starts. I’m not home until like 6:30, 7 on practice (days). And then if we have an away game I’m not getting home until 9. I would go at times where I wouldn’t even get a chance to see my kids at all in a day and that started to weigh on me. I didn’t like going days at a time without even speaking (to) or seeing my kids.”
Blue watched Easton go 36-25-5 overall, 28-9-3 North Bayside during his five years as head coach, which included winning the division title and reaching the Bayside Conference championship his first year (2015), which ended with a 4-3 loss to James M. Bennett. The Warriors went 19-7 over Blue’s first two seasons, both ending with heartbreaking one-goal losses to Parkside in the Class 2A East Section II semifinals.
“My first two years I had probably one of the best group of kids — one of the most talented group of kids that were around,” Blue said. “We kind of got shellshocked like two years in a row by Parkside. I really wish that we could have at least made it to the regional finals to give us a chance to win a region. And then of course a state championship would have been awesome. I feel bad for those kids because of the talent they had.
“I remember their emotions and their disbelief of that happening two years in a row to those guys,” Blue said of the Warriors’ 2-1 loss to the Rams in 2015, and their 3-2 double-overtime loss a year later. “My heart definitely goes out to those losses and the potential that team had.”
A first-team all-North Bayside selection his junior year as a goalkeeper at Easton, Blue was named the All-North Bayside Player of the Year his senior year (2002). He went on to Salisbury, where he earned the unsung hero award one season, and most improved another.
Blue was an assistant for Easton’s varsity baseball team from 2011-13, and took over as junior varsity head coach for two years (2014-15). He then took over as head soccer coach in 2015, the year he had perhaps his most memorable win, as Easton rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat North Caroline, 4-3, in double overtime.
“Just being able to be around the kids was my favorite part,” Blue said of what he’ll miss most about not coaching. “And being able to see them learn and grow from freshmen. My first group of freshmen (that I had) all the way through, this year they graduated; Joesito (Myers), Gardner (Edgell), that group. It was just really cool seeing their progression from freshmen to seniors. Just the relationship building, hanging around them. Being able to try to teach them different ways to play the game.”
Blue, who teaches special education in eighth grade at Easton Middle School, praised Easton High principal Kirk Howie, athletic director Kurisha Hoffman and former assistant Jeremy Vogel for their help over the years. He also applauded the efforts of Saints Peter and Paul High head coach G.R. Cannon for helping him get started in coaching, and former Easton head coach Chip Craig.
“He was my behind-the-scenes super hero,” Blue said of Craig. “Those are two guys that really helped out.”