Six Schools in Six Days: Oregon State Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 23, 2005
With a philosophy based on hard work and a blue-collar ethic, the Oregon State men's soccer program has made great strides under seventh-year head coach Dana Taylor, and he believes 2005 will be the Beavers' biggest year yet.
OSU's national ascent began in 2002 with the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance. In 2003, the team made the tournament again and hosted a postseason match for the first time. The 2004 team, with an infusion of young players, may have missed out on the College Cup, but it was also a chance to reload.
'Technical, athletic, quick and dynamic are words that describe this year's team,' Taylor said. 'The depth of this team is unbelievable. We're at least two deep at every position, and in some spots three.'
Nine starters and 13 letterwinners, as well as a pair of redshirts, return from the 2004 team, which went 8-10-1 overall. Six of those players were regular starters for the first time.
'In 2004, we had so many new faces on the field,' said Taylor, who is assisted by Anthony Latronica and Mick McDermott. 'I felt that we lost our way with so many seniors graduating the year before. There was a vacuum. It took several weeks to really get everyone where we wanted them, both in terms of positioning and an understanding of their roles. Just as we started to find our way, the Pac-10 season began and a whole new learning curve took place.
'The guys that we have coming back have a proven track record and have come together as a team. Having made the NCAA Tournament twice in the last three years, more prospective players are paying attention to Oregon State. With the addition of another excellent recruiting class, it has made us a deeper team.'
The Beavers will look to carry over the positive momentum that began at the end of the 2004 season. In the final two games, both at Lorenz Field at Valley Stadium, OSU defeated a pair of top 10-ranked and NCAA Tournament teams in UCLA and Washington (beating the Huskies for the fourth time in the last six meetings). Then, the Beavers had an excellent spring season, with strong results against the likes of the University of Portland and the Portland Timbers of the USL First Division.
Two Beavers - senior midfielder/forward Ryan Johnson (Boston, Mass./Melrose HS) and junior forward Robbie Findley (Phoenix, Ariz./Shadow Mountain HS) - had outstanding summer seasons playing with the Boulder Rapids Reserve in the USL Premier Development League. Both players were All-Pac-10 first team honorees a year ago and were Boulder's top scorers, each averaging more than a goal a game.
'They really tore up the PDL this summer,' Taylor said. 'Those two have formed a lethal combination.'
Now that fall has arrived, the Beavers will welcome their fourth straight top 20 recruiting class, according to College Soccer News. The only other school on the West Coast that can make that claim is UCLA. Thirteen new players, several with international experience, will compete for playing time with the returners. An OSU player has earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in two of the last three years, and it could happen again with the level of talent coming in.
The OSU coaches will use a variety of methods to help their players to excel in 2005. Dr. Jerry Lynch, a leading sport psychologist who has helped numerous championship athletes in college and the pros, is advising the team for the first time this year. The Beavers will spend a week during preseason in Bend, Ore., doing high-altitude training. The coaching staff utilizes Match Analysis and Game Breaker software to improve player performance. Lights will be added to Lorenz Field at Valley Stadium in the near future, allowing for night-time practices and games.
Here is a look at OSU's team by position:
Findley is expected to be paired up front with junior Bryan Jordan (Temple City, Calif./Temple City HS). Findley had eight goals and four assists last year en route to NSCAA All-West Region honors and his second straight All-Pac-10 selection. With 18 career goals, he is tied for sixth on OSU's career list. Jordan scored three goals and had one assist last season, and has five career goals.
'Robbie and Bryan figure to be our two prominent players up front,' Taylor said. 'Robbie is one of the most prolific scorers in school history. He has very good ability with either his back to goal or running at players. Bryan is one of the fastest players we've had. He's extremely explosive and can be a solid goal-scorer for us.'
Sophomore Robby Christner (Springfield, Ore./Thurston HS), who saw action in nine games and scored one goal a year ago, looks to add to his playing time in 2005.
'Robby is fast, very powerful and has a quick shot,' Taylor said.
Cameron and the two Johnsons are also candidates to move forward and see time up front.
Seniors Ryan Johnson and Matt Johnson (Williams, Ore./Hidden Valley HS) - who are not related -- are set to man the left and right side of the midfield, respectively. Ryan Johnson holds the school's records for assists in a career (21) and in a season (13 in 2003). He had five goals and three assists last season and earned All-Pac-10 honors in each of his three seasons. Matt Johnson scored four goals in 2004 and has nine in his career. Either could also move up to forward at times.
'Ryan is really excited about this year and making an even bigger name for himself for the MLS Draft,' Taylor said. 'He's very creative and such a great passer. Matt is an unpredictable player because he can use his right and left foot. He's hard-working and is a big part of the attack.'
Junior Chris Murphy (Santa Rosa, Calif./Maria Carrillo HS) began his collegiate career at Fresno State in 2003, then transferred to OSU in 2004 and scored three goals.
'Chris has the ability to break players down with the dribble or with the pass,' Taylor said. 'He's also a good goal-scorer.'
Beyond those three, seven newcomers will seek to earn their spot in the midfield rotation.
'Our depth in the midfield is incredible,' Taylor said. 'If guys aren't getting the job done, someone else will move in and get it done.'
Of the seven, sophomore Lucas Egenwall (Falkenberg, Sweden), who last played for Falkenburgs FF in Sweden, looks to be a mainstay in the midfield.
'Lucas comes with a wealth of experience and will be slotted into a center midfield position,' Taylor said. 'At 22 years of age, it will be great to have theleadership that he brings.'
Sophomore Nick Webb (Bellingham, Wash./Squalicum HS), twin brother of Mason, was an All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference first team selection at Western Washington University last year. He was the team's second-leading scorer with five goals and four assists.
'Nick is an explosive player and it will be difficult to keep him off the pitch,' Taylor said. 'He goes forward very well, dribbles well and connects with his teammates.'
Redshirt freshman Hiroshi Nishito (Tokyo, Japan/Toin Gakuen HS), who walked on to the team in the spring, is yet another international player that may play a role.
'Hiroshi is an extremely technical player with his passing and dribbling,' Taylor said, 'He'll be a good player for us.'
Four others are true freshmen: Ryan Callahan (Lafayette, Calif./Acalanes HS), Josh Cameron (Gresham, Ore./Centennial HS), Collin Foster (Hillsboro, Ore./Jesuit HS) and Tracy Hasson (Lake Oswego, Ore./Lake Oswego HS).
'Ryan is a very hard tackler, and he comes with a great soccer pedigree,' Taylor said. 'Josh has been a three-sport athlete and I think he's really going to excel in college as he focuses on soccer. Collin loves to get forward and is a very proficient passer. Tracy is an explosive player who is extremely tricky on the ball.'
Although it was a question mark before the start of last season, the defense has evolved over the course of the past year and looks to be a strong point, according to Taylor. OSU gave up 27 goals in 19 games in 2004, the fewest in nine seasons.
'Early on we had problems defensively last year,' he said. 'We lacked leadership, maturity and speed. So this was the position on which we spent the majority of our time recruiting, and it looks to be quite strong now.'
Sophomore Alex Christensen (Las Vegas, Nev./Chapparal HS) earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year in his first collegiate season. Christensen, junior Matt Bowman (Tigard, Ore./Tigard HS) and sophomore Mason Webb (Bellingham, Wash./Squalicum HS) each earned starting experience last year. Webb also may move up to play in the midfield.
'Alex has taken control in the back, and he's really going to be a mainstay,' Taylor said. 'Matt is a technically sound player that stays calm under pressure. Mason is a very clever, technical player who is extremely proficient with the ball.'
Sophomore Brett Gardner (Portland, Ore./Sunset HS) produced four goals and four assists as a midfielder in 2004, but will shift to left back this season.
'Brett has one of the best engines in the country,' Taylor said. 'He gets up and down the field. Left back will allow Brett the opportunity to utilize his speed coming forward.'
Other returners who may figure in the defensive rotation are senior Alex Asai (Portland, Ore./Wilson HS), sophomore Loren Hill (Eugene, Ore./Sheldon HS) and redshirt freshman Lloyd Fobi (Messa, Cameroon/Sacred Heart).
'Alex brings a lot of senior leadership and really understands what we're trying to do,' Taylor said. 'Loren is a solid defender who loves to get forward in the attack, and he's a good ball-striker. Lloyd has improved immensely and is a strong, athletic player who is hard to beat.'
Of the newcomers, two bring international experience to the squad. Freshman Joey Loreth (Victoria, B.C., Canada/Oak Bay HS) was the captain of the U-17 Canadian National Team and is a current member of the U-20 program. Freshman Daniel Leach (Scarborough, Queensland, Australia) was part of an U-17 Australian National Team camp and last played in his homeland's premier amateur league.
'We've added two incredible players here,' Taylor said. 'Joey is very technically gifted and a real leader since he was the captain of Canada's under-17 team. Daniel is a big, strong and extremely technical left-footed defender who has the ability to organize the defense.'
Three other true freshmen are joining the defensive mix: Garrett Fuller (Eugene, Ore./Sheldon HS), Sean Tripi (Hillsboro, Ore./Century HS) and Ryan Vilhauer (Eugene, Ore./Sheldon HS).
'Garrett is a strong, tenacious player with a personality that will really benefit the team,' Taylor said. 'Sean is a great one-on-one open-field tackler. Ryan may be one of our most versatile players who can help us in the back or in the midfield.'
The goalkeeping staff features not only a returning starter but two promising freshmen who are expected to make a push for playing time.
Jason Mariner (Phoenix, Ariz./Pinnacle HS), a sophomore, started 15 games last year and posted a 1.44 goals-against average. He ranked third in the Pac-10 in saves with 53.
'Jason is an extremely athletic goalkeeper who has great distribution,' Taylor said. 'He played in a lot of big games last year.'
He'll be pushed by redshirt freshman Packy Deenihan (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill HS) and true freshman Mike Miller (Portland, Ore./Centennial HS). Deenihan and Mariner split time in goal during the spring.
'Packy is a calming influence in the goal,' Taylor said. 'He organizes players well. Mike is very promising and brings good athleticism. I really like what we have at goalkeeper.'
The 2005 schedule has all of the typical challenges and features two-time defending national champion Indiana, which visits Corvallis for the OSU Diadora Classic on Sept. 16-17. OSU begins the season with three non-conference games in California, then hosts the Stephen Hensor/Joe Zaher Classic and Diadora Classic on consecutive weekends.
After three games in Spokane, Wash., the Pac-10 schedule gets underway in October. The six-team Pac-10 consists of three NCAA Tournament teams (UCLA, Washington and California), plus Stanford and newcomer San Diego State.