Leaves fall from branches, temperatures cool, and Good Counsel girls’ soccer wins.

For 26 years D.C.-area autumns, the Falcons have won. Coach Jim Bruno’s led the way for all of them, the girls’ soccer coach for the entirely of the team’s history. He’s never coached Good Counsel to a losing record, and has seen countless players move on to Division I programs. Bruno’s coached  92 losses and 50 ties, and — as of last Thursday afternoon and a 3-0 win over National Cathedral — 400 wins.

Bruno shared his thoughts about the significance of the milestone, how he’s seen girls’ soccer change, and his proudest moments in a long, highly decorated career with the Falcons.

What does the 400-win mark mean to you?

Well, it took 26 years to do, so I guess that tells you if you stick around long enough you can win that many games.

How has the girls’ soccer scene changed since you took over at Good Counsel in 1988?

One of the things that has happened in particular is a change in the women’s side of sports. What happened back then — and no offense to dads coaching at the time — but young ladies weren’t getting great coaching. In the travel side, better coaches saw (coaching girls) was a great opportunity. That changed the landscape for soccer, and we started developing better and better players. What happened in 1988 and what happens today can’t compare, the difference in talent is amazing. The Washington Area Girls’ Soccer League was the league at the time, and still a pretty important league, but they only had so many teams. It was sparse compared to today. There’s so many more kids involved.

What have you learned about coaching over the years?

It’s a process. You don’t just come out a wizard of a coach. Just like a player, it takes some years, it takes coaches years, too. I found out that the X’s and O’s are very important, but probably the most important thing as a coach is the mental things.

We really want the girls to be leaders on and off the field, team-building, all these things that are outside the physical part of the game I’ve found are very important. I think that’s the biggest thing. [American soccer] is ahead of [the rest of the world in soccer] when it comes to this: The world might be ahead of us in Xs and Os at times, but as far as the way we treat the people involved, that’s very important.

What do you think of how the college recruiting boom?

I’ll tell you, college recruiting is on steroids right now. I’m not knocking them, but things have changed and over the last five to seven years you see coaches getting pretty good money and putting a lot of pressure on kids early. [Falcons senior and Duke commit] Imani Dorsey, she committed as a sophomore!

[College coaches] have started these “ID camps” where you supposedly catch their eye. And they’ll tell you: if they don’t see you play there, more than likely they’re not going to take a look at you. All that means to me is money in their pocket. I hate to say that, because I know a lot of college coaches who are really straight up and do the right thing. But I can tell you story after story where I tell you kids were exploited.

Your opponent for your 400th win — National Cathedral — is coached by Danielle Malagari, one of your former players. What does it mean to you to see players come back to the game after they leave Good Counsel?

It means they still love it. I’m just one of the pieces of the puzzle: they’ve had club coaches who have had a big impact on their lives, too. I like to think coaches are supposed to be mentors and have positive impacts on kids.

I find that the sport, that’s part of you growing up and becoming a well-rounded person and understanding how to work with people. It teaches you to step up: enjoy the good things, but oh, there’s the bad things and you’ve got to deal with it. You can’t go run and hide, you’ve got to face all the good and the bad together.  That’s what sports do: ask the Redskins about the bad things…

What sticks out as something you’re particularly proud of in your career?

That’s a tough one to put your finger on after 26 years. People expect me to win now, and if we don’t win, something horrendous happened. But back in my third year, we had the worst team we ever had. This group of kids, though, refused to buckle under. I thought ‘well, we’re going to have a losing season.’

We’ve never had a losing season. This group came together and won their last three games, finally lost in the playoffs. They lost in the playoffs. I just thought that was one of the great accomplishments. It doesn’t sound like much, but with a group of kids that didn’t have the same talent…they got to the second round, but ended up 9-7. That was 1991. That showed me there’s a lot more to this than having talent to throw out there and win games.

I think every team I’m equally proud of for different reasons. In the sniper year (2002 when a gunman shot five people in Montgomery County on Oct. 3), that situation was a horrible thing. How the kids handled themselves through that whole thing.

You remember adversity. And when the kids overcome that, that’s the really exciting thing.

And about that other WCAC girls’ soccer powerhouse…

Alberto Storace [coach at Good Counsel’s rival O’Connell girls’ soccer] he’s been around [28] years. He’s done some great things. It’s funny, you’ve been around so long and people just say ‘oh yeah, they’re winning again.’ But I’ve got a lot of admiration of what he’s done over the years. He’s done the same thing as I have: he’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly.

We’re friends except for a couple games a year. We understand that it’s great to have an adversary like that. I always respect teams that come out to try to beat your brains in. People say, ‘oh, don’t you hate them?’ I love it. Alberto, no matter if he has a talented team or he doesn’t, he’s tough. I love it.