Men's Soccer 2008 Season Outlook
The roster is set. The players are ready. The schedule is finalized. Now the only thing to expect is the unexpected. The Eagles have an answer for the unexpected, and third-year head coach Kevin Kennedy calls it the intangible.
"I think that this year we’ll certainly have a lot more experience, and I’m hopeful that this experience lends itself to leadership and maturity," said Kennedy, the 2006 Southern Conference Coach of the Year.’
The 2008 Georgia Southern men’s soccer team returns nine starters and 17 letterwinners from last year’s squad. Fifteen players on the 24-man roster are upperclassmen, including six seniors and nine juniors. The future, although it is unknown, is bright, indeed.
"You’ve got guys that have not only appeared in several matches in the last couple years but also we’re kind of witnessing those guys grow into leadership roles," said Kennedy. "And to me, that is just an intangible quality. You need to have that leadership and that discipline within your team."
Kennedy says that there isn’t anything particularly unique about the 2008 team, but if there is anything lacking in this year’s group, it certainly isn’t in the Eagles’ work ethic.
"The thing that stands out to me when I look at the guys is when you go through, player for player, what they can bring to the team, I think it’s a real blue collar’ type group," said Kennedy. "They are going to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They’re going to work hard. They’re going to give their best effort. I think the biggest question mark is how well we develop chemistry during the preseason and during the course of the first four to five games."
That chemistry will be put to the test early. The Eagles will open up the preseason with three exhibition matches against Georgia State, North Georgia College & State, and Lander. The regular season opener will pit the Eagles with defending Conference USA champion, Tulsa. Then the Eagles face an always tough Clemson team, and later battle defending Atlantic Sun tournament champion, Campbell. The last five of those six matches are played on the road, which, according to Kennedy, should help the team prepare for an always challenging SoCon slate. And that’s part of the plan, according to Kennedy.
"Coming out of the gates, how do we respond to adversity? We will be playing some very good programs on the road. How do we respond to going on the road and also how do we respond to such stiff competition early? Whether they are wins or losses, it isn’t as important as how do we face that adversity. Do we compete right away or do the boys need some time to find their feet?"
Having experienced the challenges of the 2007 campaign and at times, coming up short, the Eagles have their sights set on at least matching the successes of the 2006 season that saw the team reach the SoCon tournament championship match and claim its best season in a decade.
"The goals are the goals that have been the same for the first two years: let’s use our out-of-conference games to prepare us mentally and tactically for tough, really tough SoCon matches," explained Kennedy. "And at the end of the day, try to perform our best and claw our way into a top four finish in the conference, and get that first home game, try to advance into the tournament and try to make something happen in the final four."
To achieve those goals, Kennedy claims a talented arsenal of ammunition that includes a unique blend of upper- and underclassmen.
The Eagles return seniors Daniel Smith (Marietta, Ga.) and Jon-Pierre Anthony (Birmingham, Ala.), junior Jon Cox (Alpharetta, Ga.), and sophomore David Leonard (Augusta, Ga.) to the attack. Though the depth up front may provide some challenges, the front is surely packed with speed, size and experience.
"When you look at the forwards, the two guys coming back with the most experience in my mind are Daniel Smith - who has gotten a lot of time as a sophomore and a junior and brings obviously a lot to the table," said Kennedy. "Then you look at getting Jon Cox, he’s clearly a difference maker."
Smith is the top returning player in the points category from the 2007 squad, finishing second in points (10) and goals (3), and leading the team with four assists. Cox was well-decorated as a freshman in 2006, named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year,’ and led the team in points (17), goals (6) and assists (5).
Anthony scored a pair of winners in eight appearances while Leonard also saw action up front in 2007.
"You have guys like Jon-Pierre Anthony who came in 2007, scored a couple goals and adjusted very well," said Kennedy. "And then we will have David Leonard looking to compete for time up there. He got good experience as freshmen."
The midfield is packed with nine players and is loaded with experience, including six of the nine either claiming senior or junior status.
"When I think about the midfield, Julian Donaldson has started consistently for two years," explained Kennedy. "Danny Hall is going to be coming to his junior year. He has several starts and a lot of minutes as a freshman and sophomore. And then you have BJ Reine who has started consistently for his last two years."
Donaldson (Aurora, Colo.), Hall (Conyers, Ga.) and Reine (Baton Rouge, La.) combined last year for 46 appearances and 22 starts. Reine notched a pair of goals and finished the season tied for fourth in points (4). Hall came off the bench and dished out an assist in a 6-2 victory over Wofford (Sep. 27).
Additionally, Matt Crowell (St. Augustine, Fla.) and Patrick Johns (Cumming, Ga.) also bring plenty of experience to the middle. Crowell started in 12 of 16 appearances, tallying one goal, while Johns made five starts in 13 games and notched a goal and an assist.
"Austen Peacock is a player that has had a lot of injuries, but I really think he could be one of our best midfielders if he can stay injury free," said Kennedy. "Obviously Jon Kinsler, who will be a captain along side Sean Sandoval and Daniel Smith this year, gives us a lot of experience, starting consistently as a sophomore and a junior."
A fixture at midfield, co-captain Kinsler (Ormond Beach, Fla.) made 15 starts in 17 appearances last year and teamed up with Austen Peacock (Carrolton, Texas), who helped solidify the middle in 13 appearances.
"We have some players who will bring a different dimension like Jarryd Nolette (Windermere, Fla.), Joe Madigan (Centennial, Colo.), and Ryan Mertes (Mooresville, N.C.) who I think can compete right away," added Kennedy.
The defense is another place where the Eagles have strong depth and experience. Returning is a solid nucleus of starters in Sean Sandoval (Aurora, Colo.), Mark Beville (Apopka, Fla.), Brennan Peacock (Carrolton, Texas) and Austin Steele (Kennesaw, Ga.).
"When I look at that back four I see Sean Sandoval who’s been a three-year starter here," said Kennedy. "Obviously he lends a lot of experience to that back line. Then we have some players like Brennan Peacock, who really had a breakout year in 2007."
Sandoval started in all 17 appearances in the back while Brennan Peacock made 15 starts in 18 appearances. Beville gained valuable experience on defense, starting in nine of 16 games, and also provided offensive support as he dished out one assist.
"You’re going to have Mark Beville, Steven George (Lawrenceville, Ga.), Chad Strader (Evans, Ga.) and Austin Steele all competing back there. So, that’s a lot of young and enthusiastic players. Sean Sandoval will really need to take a leadership role in that back four."
Steele spent a good amount of time both on offense and defense, adding flexibility to the structure. Last season, he made six starts in 12 appearances and notched two goals and two assists to finish third on the team in points (6).
The depth continues at goalkeeper. The Eagles return starter Joey Ralph (Martinez, Ga.), who last year made nine starts in nine matches, tallying over 813 minutes and making 37 saves in the cage. In addition to Ralph, the Eagles return Mike Gubosh (Evans, Ga.) and Zack Buckley (Statesboro, Ga.), and welcome newcomer Chris Cantrell (Savannah, Ga.).
"Obviously Joey Ralph is the most experienced, but Mike Gubosh has proven he has done exceptionally well in training," said Kennedy. "Zack Buckley did very well this last year and then we are going to see what Chris Cantrell can bring to the team as a transfer."
With the depth not only in the cage, but also at each position, the Eagles should be expected to push one another to greater heights. And as experience and youth work together, it will be the intangible qualities of leadership and discipline that will make 2008 a special year for Georgia Southern.
- Category: Men's Soccer
- Published on Thursday, 21 August 2008 00:10