AU Men’s Soccer closed out their preseason with a scrappy 1-0 exhibition win over Towson at Reeves Field on Sunday Afternoon.
Familiar faces carried the afternoon. Junior Andrew Herman, last year’s leading goal scorer, beat Tiger ‘keeper Zak Thompson in the 44th minute after latching onto a through ball from junior Shawn Kuykendall, last year’s assist leader. And while Herman perhaps deserved to have another goal in the second half, the duo did enough to lead AU past a tough but unpolished Towson team.
But for AU to have long-term success, the newcomers and less experienced returnees, especially in the back, must follow very close behind the returning starters.
“I think our attack is good,” Head Coach Todd West said of this year’s squad. “Since we are losing six starters, a lot of people aren’t going to expect us to be as good as last year. But I think we might surprise some people.”
The most notable losses for AU include goalkeeper Michael Behonick, defender Larry McDonald and midfielder Kris Kuykendall. If last spring is any indication this year’s defense shouldn’t miss too many beats, despite fielding many new starters.
“We should be pretty good defensively,” West said. “Spring matches aren’t always the best indication, but we didn’t give up any goals in them and went undefeated against teams like Wisconsin (1-0), Wake Forest (2-0) and Pennsylvania (1-0).”
With those good results, West has chosen for now to start those players who played in the spring, whether they were first or second team in the fall. And if the results stay positive, West says, he will not turn to incoming freshmen immediately. But those results may be tough to come by.
The Eagles have a challenging start to the 2003 campaign, battling George Washington and Georgetown in this weekend’s D.C. College Cup in Georgetown. Then the schedule gets even tougher, as AU faces Virginia, a traditional national power, and Maryland, the preseason #1 team in the nation, in the Maryland/Adidas Classic at College Park, Md. the following weekend.
Last Year AU defeated GW 1-0 in the NCAA tournament’s first round, then lost to Maryland 1-0 in the next round. The Eagles defeated Georgetown 4-0 in last year’s D.C. College Cup and lost 2-1 at Virginia last October.
“GW will come at us very hard, being that we ended their season last year,” said West. “That being said, there will be a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball. Georgetown is a team we caught last year when they were very young, and this year they have everyone returning.”
West continued, calling the next weekend’s Maryland/Adidas Classic “arguably the most prestigious in the nation,” adding he hoped that AU’s invitation signaled a “statement of the credibility of our program.”
AU’s season continues at another invitational, the Old Dominion/Stihl Classic, in Virginia on Sept.12 and 14. Then, the Eagles enter the Patriot League schedule, breaking occasionally to play out of conference opponents including Princeton and George Mason.
While ideally AU wants to win against big time sides like Maryland and Virginia, they must focus on winning the winnable games, especially against conference teams, who may not open the field up as much as more elite opponents. The Eagles struggled somewhat in this department last season. But with the attack largely intact, and the defense looking promising, West thinks his side can improve in this area.
“I hope we are mature [up front],” said West, “and that we’ve learned if we focus on our defending, we have enough players up front that we’ll get the goals. We may have to settle for one-zero wins, but that’s fine.”
So what needs to happen for the Eagles this season? They need consistent outings from junior goalkeeper Thomas Myers, who takes the starting position full time for the first time in his career. They need junior Sean Albright to become adept at organizing a young defense, despite only starting 12 games last season. They need juniors Kuykendall and Herman to continue their production in the final third. And they need freshmen like Salvatore Caccavale and Nathan Baker to bring energy off the bench, much like they did against Towson in the second half on Sunday.
“I expect an NCAA Tournament bid,” said West confidently. “Some might think that’s a lofty goal for a team with one senior. And this group does have a lot to prove. But they could be better than last year’s team.”
If they are, watch out in 2003. And 2004.