Six Schools in Six Days: Washington Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 29, 2005
The Washington men's soccer team has a bit of unfinished business to take care of in 2005. Despite a hot start, that included eight shutouts in their first 13 matches, the Huskies finished last season with an uncharacteristic four consecutive losses. For a team that boasted a NSCAA first-team All-American, two All-Region selections, the Pac-10's Co-Player of the Year, Co-Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year, it was a disappointment to say the least.
But for the Huskies, it's a lesson already learned. After a highly productive spring season that included finishing with four straight wins, head coach Dean Wurzberger is confident that his squad, comprised of an experienced corps of returners and an outstanding recruiting class, will have what it takes to start and finish strong.
'All you can do is go out there and correct your errors,' Wurzberger said. 'We played very well winning our last four spring games which I was very proud of given that we lost our last four from fall. We put that disappointing and unexpected finish to rest. It's behind us. What we can learn is you've got to remember how to keep doing what you're doing. So saving a burst for the end of the season would be the lesson learned.'
Glancing at the 2005 roster, what looks to be UW's biggest loss might actually be a blessing in disguise. For the first time in four years, UW will be without the services of its two-time first-team All-American C.J. Klaas who led the squad both on and off the field. Arguably one of the most decorated athletes to graduate from the program, the midfield play of Klaas will certainly be missed.
But Wurzberger sees this as an opportunity for the Huskies to rely more on complete team play which he believes will fit this group even better.
'If there is one thing I'd say is this year's theme it's that the 'Team' is going to be the star,' Wurzberger said. 'That's going to be our calling card, the team will be the star as a result of everyone making their contribution. If we did have a star player in C.J., he's gone now. We have to accept the fact that everyone has to do their part for the team and in many respects that may be a more successful formula. I'm confident that we'll be very good this year.'
Looking to contribute to the total team effort immediately will be four returning All-Pac-10 players in senior goalkeeper Chris Eylander (first-team), junior forward Kevin Forrest (first-team), senior midfielder Mike Chabala (second-team) and junior defender Ty Harden (second-team). Harden was also a third-team All-Region selection and is a team captain, along with Chabala.
As evidenced by looking at those four returners alone, Washington's strengths this year will be balance and depth. Although the team is still considered young with just over 60 percent of the players coming in as freshmen and sophomores, the Huskies are talented across the board.
Washington returns its starting goalkeeper in Eylander (one of the best in the conference last year), a young but emerging group of forwards including 2004 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Ely Allen, and three of four returning starters in both the midfield and the backline.
'I'm very excited about what we have,' Wurzberger said. 'I think we'll be right there running for the Pac-10 title and with any luck, a longer run in postseason. That's the one continuing goal that we haven't achieved, getting to the Final Four. I have every reason to believe this team can do it.'
Perhaps the biggest surprise for Wurzberger last season was the emergence of Forrest as the team's top goal scorer. Forrest, a first-team All-Pac-10 performer, led the squad with nine goals and 20 points.
'Kevin is one of the bravest if not the bravest player we have,' Wurzberger said.'When the ball goes in the box, he goes on the end of it. He doesn't fear for personal body harm. He gets in there, he runs across people. He's bold in his attacking runs and his movement. He's explosive. He had all the tools but we were surprised that he ended up leading the team in goals. And we're delighted he still has two more years.'
Washington lost a pair of seniors from last year in Casey Armstrong and Brett Wiesner, but with Forrest and sophomores Allen and Spencer Schmidt, UW still returns a considerable amount of offensive power.
Allen has the versatility to play wide left as a midfielder, but the coaching staff would like to see him play down the middle where he can get to goal.
'We need him to be more goal dangerous and in more scoring situations,' Wurzberger said. 'And maybe pairing him with Forrest, those are two very talented, dynamic, mobile front runners who could cause any defense problems.'
Schmidt saw some playing time as a freshman and emerged to lead the team in goals during the spring. Also sitting in reserve is sophomore Brett Hite who scored a pair of goals playing in 14 matches last season. Incoming freshman Mike DeSimone is another player who can contribute to the offense.
'We're young up front but we've got many quality attacking players that hopefully can score for us,' Wurzberger said. 'I like our depth, I like our quality at all positions.'
Despite losing Klaas, the midfield is likely the deepest and most experienced area for Washington led by four seniors: Chabala, Evan Cummings, Jeff Hoover and Leo Totev. Youth will also play a factor, as two of UW's top recruits - Jo Jo Katz and George John - could also make an immediate impact.
Although the play of the freshmen on the collegiate level is still unknown, Wurzberger knows what he's getting in his returning veterans. A two-year team captain, Chabala will once again be the anchor of the midfield in this his final year.
'Chabala is the heart and soul of the team,' Wurzberger said. 'He's the leader recognized by his teammates. He carries out the coaches' plan as much as he possibly can. He just helps you win. He's a very good holding midfield player, he does his job for us both to win the ball and keep possession to set up our attacks. He can assist people, he can score the odd goal. He is just everything you want from a center mid.'
Cummings and Hoover, who rotated at outside mid, as well as Totev all look to make the most of their senior campaigns. Totev finished last year sixth on the team in points with two goals and one assist, while Cummings and Hoover each added one goal apiece. Senior Mike Cusenza could also see playing time as a midfielder. Sophomore transfer from Portland, Bobbak Talebi, is another player who could see playing time.
Harden, an All-Region and All-Pac-10 centerback who has started every game of his career, will continue to lead the UW defense just as he has done as an underclassman.
'No question Ty is our top defender and one of the best centerbacks on the West Coast,' Wurzberger said. 'He continues to be 'Mr. Consistent,' playing well in the fall and the spring. He's at the top of our charts at the end of every season with regards to player ranking. If we get the defense right we could have the most dominating backline along with UCLA.'
Joining Harden on defense will be the other two returning starters in juniors Will Flanagan and Matt Fischer. Flanagan, another model of consistency for the Huskies who also got into the offensive act adding three assists, earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention acclaim last year. Fischer broke into the starting lineup in mid-September and never left, further solidifying the UW defense.
The Huskies lost just one member of their 2004 backline in graduated senior Joe Birklid. The left back position that Birklid shared with sophomores Adam West and Derek Crismier last season remains the only true question mark for Wurzberger.
'If I'm picking out of spring it would probably be Derek Crismier getting the nod based on experience,' he said. 'He's such a good utility player, he can play anywhere.'
In addition to West, sophomore Nick Loveless and freshmen Kevin Barry and Taylor Cochran could see time in the back. Cochran comes to Washington as a forward, but Wurzberger sees him more of a defender at the collegiate level.
Washington benefited from the breakout year of Chris Eylander in goal last season. Eylander, who had waited in the wings for two years, etched his name in the Husky record books as a junior when opportunity came knocking.
He became just the second player in the history of the program to record at least 10 shutouts in a season and ranks third on the single-season list behind Mark Schuur who tallied 14 and 11 in 1982 and 1981, respectively. His 79 saves in 2005 rank sixth on UW's season list and he enters his senior campaign ranked sixth on the UW career list for shutouts (11).
For good measure, Eylander led the conference in saves (79), saves per game (3.95) and shutouts (10) last year. The first-team All-Pac-10 player will certainly look to make the most of his final season with the Huskies.
'A senior goalkeeper with that kind of recognition should be a force,' Wurzberger said.
Backing up Eylander will be redshirt freshmen Cameron Copps-Tilley and Jordan Jennings, along with true freshman Rylan Hawkins.
Wurzberger has plans to redshirt Hawkins, who may be Eylander's heir apparent. 'I think Rylan's going to be a good one. He has the potential to be the next great goalkeeper out of the state of Washington' he said.
Once again, the Huskies will meet a formidable schedule of opponents when they take to the pitch beginning September 2. Washington will play its first five games on the road, including tournaments in Portland, Ore., and Denver, Colo.
In Portland, Washington will counter Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Creighton (Sept. 2 and 4), while in Denver UW will face the host Pioneers and Air Force (Sept. 16 and 18).
In between tournaments, UW will travel to Northern California for a contest with St. Mary's in Moraga, Sunday, Sept. 11.
The Huskies' make their home debut hosting the Husky Fever Classic Sept. 23 and Sept. 25. In the home opener Friday, Washington will face Wisconsin and then on Sunday will play Hartwick. Portland rounds out the four-team field, taking on Hartwick on Friday and Wisconsin on Sunday.
UW makes its Pac-10 debut on the road at Oregon State, Sunday, Oct. 2, and hosts conference matches with UCLA (Oct. 7), San Diego State (Oct. 9), California (Oct. 21), Stanford (Oct. 23) and Oregon State (Nov. 13).
San Diego State is a new addition to the Pac-10 this season, providing a travel partner for UCLA and giving UW one more home conference match.
The Huskies will take a break from conference play the first weekend of November, hosting Portland Friday, Nov. 4, before playing at Gonzaga, Sunday, Nov. 6.
'Our schedule certainly is one that will provide us with enough high-ranked opponents to make sure our RPI is up to par,' Wurzberger said. 'It's going to be a great year. We can't wait to get started.'