Alan Merrick was a longtime Minnesota Kicks player. Now he coaches, for kicks.

The former North American Soccer League defender is in his first season at the helm of Eagan's boys' soccer team. He also is coaching the University of Minnesota men's club team.

"I'm quite demanding of my players," Merrick said. "I want them always doing their best even in practice. I don't like sloppy play. That can become a characteristic of your play. Getting players to break bad disciplines can be frustrating."

Merrick's Eagan squad is off to a 4-2-1 start through its first seven games. One of its setbacks was a 2-0 loss to Class 2A, No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie.

"I have been impressed with the way he has been able to connect with all of us," Eagan senior captain Wyatt Wagner said. "He has brought a different culture into Eagan soccer."

Merrick, 62, said he "always knew I would coach at a young age. I took an English coaching course when I was a teenager. I couldn't take the test though because I was too young."

Merrick grew up in Selly Oak, Birmingham, England, and became a professional player with West Bromwich Albion in August 1967. He moved to the United States in 1976 and signed with the Kicks.

"It was two totally different cultures for soccer," Merrick said. "Soccer was an unknown in the United States."

Merrick's coaching philosophy centers on one word that is prominent on European professional jerseys: respect. Its meaning:

R: Responsibility

E: Effort

S: Support

P: Participation

E: Enthusiasm

C: Communication

T: Trust

"It's simple, and important," Merrick said. "The players are adjusting to it."

Merrick expects the most out of his players, whether it be in a game or practice. Merrick also is the first to acknowledge that there was a strong foundation at the school prior to his arrival.

"It wasn't like I was taking over a program in turmoil," Merrick said. "They had a successful program. Mr. [Kurt] Virgin had done some great things in his career, and built a solid program."

Virgin, who also coached the boys' basketball team, retired amid a criminal charge of felony theft by swindle. His departure created an opening for Merrick.

"An acquaintance of mine told me the boys' soccer job was open, and wondered if I would consider it," Merrick said. "The timing was right, and it became something of a good fit."

To help with the transition, Merrick kept some of Virgin's assistant coaches on his staff.

"It was important for me to have them as a resource," Merrick said.

He also has joined forces with Wildcats girls' coach Mark Obarski in trying to form unity in the programs from top to bottom. They have been working together on everything from fundraising to practice time, training.

"In previous years, we have been very separate programs in all aspects," Wildcats senior captain Kyle Mayne said. "Now he his trying to bring all age groups and both genders together as one. He is trying to get everybody involved with Eagan soccer working toward one common goal."

That is R-E-S-P-E-C-T.