2001 Stanford Men's Soccer Outlook
One would think that by now the Stanford men's soccer program has become very good at dealing with change. Consider that since the start of the 1996 campaign, the Cardinal have experienced the following:
Add in the fact that Stanford's head coach for the past five seasons, Bobby Clark (71-21-12 during his tenure), departed to accept a head coaching position at Notre Dame. So it's fairly easy to see that much has changed in a five-year span.And this season shouldn't be any different.
Two differences highlight this year's men's soccer season, the first being the addition of a new coaching staff. The Stanford men will be led by Bret Simon, who comes to The Farm after serving as the men's head soccer coach at Creighton University for the past six seasons. Simon compiled a 96-26-9 (.767) overall record in six seasons as a head coach with the Bluejays. Simon, a 1980 graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, directed last year's Creighton squad to its best season in school history (22-4-0) and earned a trip to the College Cup for the second time in five years, where the Bluejays fell 2-0 to Connecticut in the championship match. First-year Cardinal assistant coaches Matt Stimson and Jaro Zawislan, who served as Simon's assistants at Creighton last season, will also join the club.
The other primary obstacle facing the Cardinal this year is the absence of key performers such as Luke Rust, Scott Leber, Corey Woolfolk, Sean Sylvis, Ryan Nelsen and Adam Zapala. The aforementioned players posted a 61-17-8 mark in their four seasons together on The Farm. All were members of the 1998 squad that advanced to the national championship match and more importantly, provided leadership during last year's NCAA title run which saw Stanford finish 18-3-1 overall and second place in the Pac-10 (6-2-0). The Cardinal, who finished ranked No. 6 in the final NSCAA poll, fell just short of a berth in the College Cup, advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals before dropping a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to SMU.
However, Simon remains genuinely optimistic about his team's chances this year. 'We have a chance to be very good this season,' explained Simon. 'The players and coaching staff have experienced success in the past and expect that success to continue.'
The transition period for Simon and his staff has gone well thus far, as the staff has had some time to become familiar with the players.
'Our players are very bright and have been trained very well at a high level by Coach Clark and his staff,' said Simon. 'We're also very fortunate to have been with them for an entire spring where we've been around them daily for 10 weeks and that's a huge jump start. Without that I'd be concerned about whether we could make that transition with so many new players and coaching schemes. The guys have really worked hard in the spring so I don't think we're far off. We've got guys that care enough and are putting in the necessary effort to learn.'
The following is an analysis of this year's team by position:
To say that the Cardinal will miss the play of Adam Zapala in goal is a huge understatement. In addition to being one of the team's leaders off the field, Zapala started all 22 games for the Cardinal, recorded 54 saves and 16 shutouts, and held opponents to a 0.45 goals against average last year. The leading candidates to succeed Zapala, who owns eight school career and single-season records, are Andrew Terris and Robby Fulton. Terris, a junior from Newton, Mass., saw time between the posts in five matches, all Cardinal shutouts. He has played behind Zapala for the previous two seasons and was a former goalkeeper with the U.S. Youth National Team. Fulton, who redshirted last year, played with FC Portland Club and is an Olympic Development Player for Oregon and the West Region.
'Both are very capable, extremely talented and have worked very hard in the spring and the summer so there shouldn't be much of a decline at the position,' Simon noted, adding that the preseason practices will determine the starter. 'Everything they've done while playing on outside teams and everything we've seen in training and games tells us we've got two very capable goalkeepers.'
The nation's stingiest defense in 2000 belonged to Stanford, which held opponents to just 10 goals for a 0.44 goals against average. Simon knows that establishing a similar defensive attack this season will be a priority.
'Three starters and potentially a fourth who split time last year return so we've got virtually the same defense provided we stay healthy,' said Simon. 'We'd love to score a lot of goals and expect to play an exciting style but we think the most experienced part of our team and the heart of our team will be our returning defense.'
Senior All-American Lee Morrison looks to spearhead the unit, after coming off a tremendous season in which he started all 22 matches and was selected to the All Pac-10 First Team. Even more impressive is Morrison's durability, as the 6-1 defender has been in the lineup for each of the Cardinal's 66 games since 1998. Junior Todd Dunivant contributed nine assists last season and was named to the All Pac-10 First Team as well. Dunivant is a creative player with excellent skills and looks to be a force at the left defender position. Taylor Graham has continued to develop at a very rapid pace during spring workouts and the coaching staff is confident he can contribute. Aaron Biddle is an exciting, attacking right back who will provide experience. Travis James is a veteran senior who has experience at a number of postitions. Juniors Taylor Ahlgren and George Michalopolous are coming off long-term injuries and hope to add depth, leadership and stability to the defense. Simon also raves about incoming freshman Seyi Abolaji, a 5-10 native of Aurora, Col., who can play a variety of positions in the defense.
According to Simon, the midfield position is one that will be 'recreated' before the season opener.
'We're really going to emphasize possessing the ball and doing a lot more through the midfield this year so we will be putting a lot on this group's shoulders,' explained Simon. 'The cohesiveness that was formed last year by the veterans will take some time to develop but I'm confident we'll be able to match that once again.'
Among those projected as leaders at the position include Abe Geiger, who split time at midfield last season and played in 20 of the 22 games for the Cardinal. Simon predicts a breakthrough season for the East Lansing, Mich. native, who was a member of the 2001 United States Under-20 National Team and has been one of Stanford's top reserves. Junior Johanes Maliza, who started on the outside last season, will have more of a central role after recording 26 shots and tallying 13 points in 2000. Seniors Matt Moses and Derek Shanahan, along with sophomore Mike Wilson, all played significant minutes last season and will provide depth and talent at the position. A host of talented freshmen will be competing for midfield spots including Aaron Maines, Todd Leber, and Clayton Peters- all redshirts last season. Incoming freshmen Darren Fernandez, Bo Eison, Luis Gonzalez and Ashvin Kumar are versatile players who will also look to make an impact. Also, popular and talented junior Kevin Koitz will return to the team after a year's hiatus.
Junior Roger Levesque and Matt Janusz, who reshirted last year, have the inside track at two starting spots but both will be pushed by a bevy of young players who played well in the spring. Levesque, a 6-0 native of Portland, Maine, has a chance to be recognized as 'one of the top players in the country this season', according to Simon. The 2000 All Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection ranked third on the team in points (21), fourth in goals (7), fifth in assists (7) and tied for third in game-winning goals (2). Janusz has plenty of prior experience that the coaching staff feels will help him become a marvelous talent and score a lot of goals. Mike Murphy hopes to be at full strength after an injury-shortened season in which he appeared in 13 contests, scoring three goals while dishing out one assist en route to tallying seven points.
'We're a little short on returning starters but have a lot of talent at the position,' Simon said. 'It's just a matter of how quickly we can all come together and the guys understand their roles. If we do a good job teaching and the guys do a conscientious job learning, the offense will be fine.'
The early tournament schedule should challenge the team immediately. The Cardinal open with four consecutive tournaments, including the first three away from Maloney Field. Stanford opens the season at the Portland Invitational, where it will face West Coast Conference foes Gonzaga and Portland. Appearances in the adidas Cal Legacy Classic and SMU Tournament (which includes a rematch against powerhouse SMU) follow before the first home match against Dartmouth on Sept. 28, in the opening round of the fifth annual Stanford/Nike Invitational. A home match against San Jose State on Oct. 4 should make for yet another exciting contest.
'A tough preseason schedule prepares you for the regular season and the playoffs,' said Simon. 'The idea is to challenge yourself and yet it's important to get off to a good start.'
Traditional powers UCLA and Washington highlight this year's conference schedule. The Pac-10 opener is scheduled for Oct. 14, when the Cardinal travels to Los Angeles to square off against the Bruins. Simon insists the Pac-10 remains a conference with several teams ready to contend for the title.
'It's a great conference for rivalry, and playing home and home games is something few conferences do. So it's exciting to see the top players from other schools here and then travel to their campus,' noted Simon. 'It seems like everyone on our conference is on the rise so it should make for a competitive season.'