Six Teams in Six Days: Washington's Men's Soccer Preview
Aug. 20, 2006
For the 2006 Washington men's soccer team the goal is simple. After missing a postseason berth last year despite a 10-win regular season, the Huskies are determined to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
With three All-Pac-10 players highlighting a corps of talented returners that will be joined by an eager group of eight newcomers, that goal appears to be in reach for this 2006 squad. And it might just be the beginning of much more.
'There isn't any reason why this team can't win the conference and go on a long run in the NCAA Tournament,' UW head coach Dean Wurzberger said. 'Certainly that is going to be communicated to our players and I think that they are excited about the challenge.'
Washington's quest to return to postseason play will begin with senior defender Ty Harden and junior forwards Ely Allen and Kevin Forrest. Harden's credentials throughout his career have been impressive. The two-year captain of the Huskies is a three-time all-conference pick - including a first-team selection as a junior - and was an all-region performer as a sophomore. Forrest is another first-team All-Pac-10 player, earning the honor as UW's leading scorer in 2004. Allen has packed an offensive punch for the Huskies as well, earning second-team all-conference honors last season after being named the 2004 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
With an explosive one-two punch up front with Allen and Forrest, returning to help strengthen the center of defense will be senior Matt Fischer. Fischer and Harden, along with midfielder Mike Cusenza who is back for a fifth year, round out the three seniors who will shoulder the team's leadership role.
With the major key components in place, Washington's first order of business will be to improve its lack of offense as the Huskies were shutout seven times last season. In many of those matches, UW dominated statistically but wasn't able to find the back of the net. Wurzberger hopes having Forrest back will remedy that problem. After leading the team in scoring in 2004, Forrest was forced to redshirt last season due to injury.
'Last year his absence cost us,' Wurzberger said. 'We had fowards in reserve but no one picked up the slack for his injury departure. But he is back.'
The second key to UW reaching its goal will be to finish strong. The last two seasons, the Huskies raced out to a fast start in September, but haven't been able to sustain that momentum in conference play. The fact that UW lost three of its last four games of the regular season last year undoubtedly hurt its postseason chances despite a 6-1 start.
'I don't know if that is a product of the schedule continuing to get harder and harder or us not having much left at the end of the season,' Wurzberger said. 'But I'm determined to plan a season for a strong finish and they will be in on that planning. Our players will realize that.'
As is the case every year the Huskies will need to do their best to replace holes vacated by some valuable graduated seniors. Among those players were All-American midfielder Mike Chabala and all-conference goalkeeper Chris Eylander. Fortunately, Wurzberger has some talented players waiting in the wings to take over those positions - junior Derek Crismier in center-mid and redshirt freshman Rylan Hawkins at goalkeeper.
'All in all, we have every reason to field a good team,' Wurzberger said. 'We're extremely talented. We have quality in key places - in the central defense and up front. If the rest of the team can fill in around them and compliment the jobs we know that they can do, we could be outstanding. We could win the conference.'
A new face will be manning the net for the Huskies this year. With the graduation of Eylander and the goalkeeping position up for grabs, it will be Hawkins and redshirt-sophomore Cameron Copps-Tilley duking it out for the role.
Hawkins came out of spring as the starter but was untested as an injury kept Copps-Tilley from playing. Hawkins, who redshirted last year, was a decorated goalkeeper out of Shorecrest High School, registering 45 career shutouts and leading his prep team to the 2005 3A state title. Copps-Tilley is a product of Fort Vancouver High School where he was an all-state and all-region player. He hasn't seen any collegiate action yet.
'Rylan seized all of the games in spring and did quite well,' Wurzberger said. 'Rylan has all the tools, all the background and all of the training, he is just young. I am pretty confident both he and Cameron will see significant minutes, they are good enough. We can win with both of them, that is for sure.'
Incoming freshman goalkeeper Stephen Fung, from Honolulu, Hawaii, will likely redshirt.
For the fourth straight season, Harden will be the anchor of the UW defense. The all-conference and all-region central defender will look to end his final collegiate season strong. Harden has been a model of consistency, missing just three games in his career due to injury. The Huskies will depend on his solid play and leadership both on and off the field.
'Ty is our senior leader, our captain hands down,' Wurzberger said. 'He is very invested and engaged in having a great senior season and having the team do well. Ty is an awesome person, a great leader and a great student.'
Joining Harden in the central defense will be Fischer, another senior leader who has patrolled the UW backfield with Harden the last three seasons.
'In Matt and Ty, we may have the best tandem of centerbacks in the conference,' Wurzberger said. 'I really can't see a two better than them. Ty is an obvious all-star and MLS candidate and Matt has all of the ability to play at the same standard and has done very well for us the past couple years.'
The left and right fullback positions are up for grabs heading into fall camp. Junior Nick Loveless has the potential to earn a starting spot at left or right fullback. Loveless played both midfielder and defender last season, finishing tied for second on the team with three goals. Junior returner Adam West, who saw significant playing time in the back line last year, and redshirt sophomore Eric Blythe - who has struggled with injuries for two seasons - will also be battling for time at right back.
At left fullback, junior transfer Steve Mohn from Kent, Wash., and redshirt freshman Taylor Cochran from Snohomish - two players who have yet to play Division I soccer - could see time. Junior transfer Stefan Tangen from Barry University (Florida) and incoming freshman Casey Cunningham from Scottsdale, Ariz., come in as promising subs and possible understudies to Harden and Fischer. Incoming freshman Taylor Hoss from Vancouver, Wash., and Daniel Phelps, from Wahiawa, Hawaii, will also most likely be in understudy roles this season. Phelps can also play in the midfield.
The midfield will be the area that will see the most change from last season, as most of those key players were seniors lost to graduation - Mike Chabala, Evan Cummings, Jeff Hoover and Leo Totev. But Wurzberger is confident the talent he has to take over will not miss a beat.
Junior Derek Crismier and sophomore George John are the leading candidates to play in the central midfield. Both players have seen minutes in the midfield but should carry consistent starting roles in 2006.
'Derek has been playing behind Mike Chabala for three years including a redshirt year,' Wurzberger said. 'With Mike gone now, I think this will be a breakout year for Derek at center-mid. I think that his time has come to show that he can step in for Chabala and do just as good a job if not better. With George, we have a ton of faith that he will be a force to reckon with as a center-mid.'
Wurzberger also has the luxury of going to Loveless to play center-mid if needed as well.
At the wide-mid spots, fleet-footed newcomer Raphael Cox, from Tacoma, will be a strong contender for a starting spot on the left side. Newcomer Adam Lang, a top recruit from Canada, could play on the right side. Returning sophomore Jo Jo Katz, the only true freshman to play in all 19 games last year, should see valuable minutes in the center or wide on either side. UW can also lean on Cusenza and junior Bobbak Talebi to play in the midfield.
The forward position might be one of the Huskies' strengths with Allen and Forrest set as starters, but depth in this area will more than likely be a concern for Wurzberger. Due to injuries and transfers, the front line looks to be a bit depleted when the season begins.
Junior Brett Hite will most likely be out for the season after suffering a torn ACL during the spring. UW lost Spencer Schmidt to a transfer after the 2005 season and Mike Desimone - a redshirt from last season - wasn't able to maintain his academic standing.
That being said, if Allen and Forrest can remain healthy - the Huskies' goal scoring issues still might be a thing of the past.
'Kevin and Ely are a tandem that are going to be, if they work together and get a partnership going, a one-two punch that most schools will have difficulty stopping,' Wurzberger said. 'Each one individually has the ability to go and make the difference so if they double down on one that should leave some space open for another. If they can do individually and collectively what we think they are capable of, we will be in every game. We could have the most lethal strike force on the West Coast. I am really optimistic that they are what we have been missing for the past couple years.'
Cox also has the ability to play up front if he is needed. Wurzberger said they could potentially change their formation to playing with just one forward should circumstances dictate.
Looking at the schedule will be key for the Huskies this year. As has become tradition the past few years, Washington has blown through its non-conference slate but ran into some tougher times once conference play begins. Wurzberger, though, is confident his 2006 squad can combat this issue.
The Huskies open earlier than usual this season with their home opener versus UC Davis on Friday, Aug. 25. From there UW will play in three tournaments before starting Pac-10 play. UW will face Air Force (Sept. 1) and Vermont (Sept. 3) in the Portland Invitational before heading to the mid-west to take on Wisconsin (Sept. 8) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Sept. 10) in the Wisconsin Invitational in Madison.
The final tournament will be UW's own Husky Classic Sept. 15 and 17. Joining the Huskies in the four-team field will be Marshall, Northern Illinois and Portland. UW will face Marshall and Northern Illinois.
The Pac-10 schedule begins Sept. 24 with the Huskies hosting Northwest nemesis Oregon State. The conference will be once again be stocked with talent. Late in the season the Huskies will take a break from conference play when they host Gonzaga (Oct. 27) and travel to Portland (Oct. 29). UW will end the regular season at Oregon State, Nov. 3.
The NCAA Tournament begins a week earlier this year, with first round matches slated for Nov. 10 and 11. Those dates are no doubt circled on the Huskies' calendar.
'Until we are in the NCAA Tournament playing for a championship we will not be happy,' Wurzberger said. 'That is goal number one, to get us back in there where we belong.
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