2007 Husky Men's Soccer Season Preview
Aug. 14, 2007
Great expectations. A simple statement for what seems to be a theme for the 2007 Washington men's soccer team.
The Huskies return nine starters and 14 letterwinners from last year's group that started the season with an eight-game unbeaten streak, was ranked as high as fourth in the nation, ended the year with the country's 18th-ranked scoring offense and was ousted from the second round of the NCAA Tournament by just one goal in overtime.
While last year can go in the books as a successful season, 16-year head coach Dean Wurzberger wants more from his squad in 2007. With a veteran group returning and a strong incoming recruiting class eager to start their UW careers, it doesn't appear to be an unrealistic goal.
But where the Huskies have fallen short the last few years has been conference play. UW has opened with non-conference success, only to stumble during the Pac-10 schedule. Since winning the inaugural league crown in 2000, UW has finished higher than third in the Pac-10 standings just once.
Wurzberger would like to see that change this year. And with success during the conference season vital to postseason berths, recording better results in Pac-10 play will only lend itself to meeting the annual expectation of making the NCAA Tournament.
'It has been difficult for us but we know we can place higher than we have in the Pac-10,' Wurzberger said. 'That's going to be our goal this year. Continue what we do well, which is a good start in September, and then put together a more impressive Pac-10 record and have more energy and freshness left for the postseason. That has to be our priority.'
The Huskies' strength this year will undoubtedly be their offensive firepower. Returning to lead the charge will be the senior strike force of Kevin Forrest and Ely Allen. Forrest, a M.A.C. Hermann Trophy candidate and the 2006 Pac-10 Player of the Year, racked up a conference-leading 16 goals last year. Allen, not without his own share of accolades, teamed with Forrest up front to round out the dynamic duo. The two will look to continue their offensive production this fall.
Forrest will share team captain duties with junior George John who figures to anchor the central midfield along with senior Derek Crismier. John had a breakout year last season, earning all-region and All-Pac-10 acclaim. Also returning is sophomore goalkeeper Rylan Hawkins who turned in a stellar rookie campaign manning the net last year.
An area of concern for Wurzberger will be replacing center backs Ty Harden and Matt Fischer from last season. Harden, an All-American and currently a standout defender with the L.A. Galaxy, was one of the top players in the conference the last four seasons and Fischer, who was drafted by the Seattle Sounders last spring, had provided consistent play in the back for the last three years.
In fact, Wurzberger notes depth as another team strength, made possible by the talented group of incoming recruits led by U-17 U.S. National Team forward Ellis McLoughlin. That depth will be tested early as two players expected to see significant time - midfielders Jo Jo Katz and Steve Mohn - are most likely out for the season due to injuries.
'Every coach would love to have two quality players at each position,' Wurzberger said. 'We're close to that. We've got a couple guys lined up at each spot now with some depth that could carry us through.'
And the ultimate goal for the Huskies would be to carry that through farther than any other UW men's soccer team - past the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore netminder Rylan Hawkins returns after a big rookie campaign that saw him post seven shutouts and a 1.02 goals against average. Hawkins, a Shoreline, Wash., native who earned the starting spot after redshirting one season, was named to the All-Pac-10 honorable mention team for his efforts.
'Everyone is expecting Rylan to improve,' Wurzberger said. 'He needs to be better than he was last year and he did well for us. He's got to be regarded as one of the top two goalkeepers in the whole conference, and therefore one of the best in the West. We think he's ready for that challenge. He has tons of ability.'
Backing up Hawkins will be redshirt-freshman Stephen Fung who will certainly be challenging his teammate for some minutes on the pitch.
'Stephen showed last spring that he's going to be a capable backup,' Wurzberger said. 'I think it's a healthy situation when the backup is close to the starter and can keep driving him forward.'
The most noticeable absence from last year's team will be felt in the center of defense. With Harden and Fischer having moved on from their collegiate careers, they leave big shoes for their former teammates to fill.
Wurzberger has tabbed three possible candidates to fill in including Cunningham, Hoss and incoming freshman Taylor Mueller. Cunningham, who played center back in the youth club ranks, seems to be the heir apparent for Harden. Cunningham played sparingly in his freshman season as a holding midfielder but seems to be transitioning nicely into the backline.
'Casey had a decent spring,' Wurzberger said. 'He still has a lot to learn but he has all the athleticism that we look for in a central defender.'
Hoss started all but one match for UW last season at left fullback and has the benefit of having collegiate experience under his belt. Wurzberger sees it as a good fit to move Hoss to the middle, his more natural position.
'Taylor is an awful good player,' he said. 'We were fortunate that he could fill in so well as a left side defender, but he's not left-footed. He's more of a central channel player.'
Mueller is another center back candidate and was one of the top prospects at the position in the state of Washington. 'We hope that he will be able to come in and play at a high level,' Wurzberger said.
At left fullback, if Hoss moves into the center, Wurzberger sees candidates for playing time being incoming freshmen Jamie Finch and Brad Keller, as well as senior Eric Blythe who is coming off his second knee surgery since becoming a Husky. Vying for the job at right fullback will be senior Nick Loveless and sophomore Adam Lang.
If it hadn't been for the spring knee injury to Katz, the Huskies would be returning their entire starting midfield from last year. But those three returning starters will be joined by some talented veterans and newcomers, alike, eager to make their marks.
Leading the way will be John and Crismier in the center, John as more of an attacking player with Crismier as the defensive midfielder. John had a breakout year in his sophomore campaign, earning both all-region and all-conference honors. Crismier was also a steady presence for UW and looks to make the most of his last season as a Husky. Senior Stefan Tangen will most likely be Crismier's backup at defensive mid and may even see an occasional start at that position. Other possible backups include Hoss and sophomore Taylor Cochran.Junior Raphael Cox will return to his spot on the left side. Cox racked up nine assists in his first year with Washington last year, and led the Pac-10 and ranked 30th in the nation with 0.43 assists per game. The left-footed Keller could potentially battle for some time at left midfielder as well.
Filling Katz's spot at the wide right position could fall to transfer Emmanuel Luvert from Northern Illinois or incoming freshman Matt Van Houten. Luvert, a native of Eugene, Ore., played two years with the NIU Huskies before transferring to UW for the 2007 spring season. Van Houten is a highly touted freshman from Portland, Ore. Sophomore Daniel Phelps, who played sparingly as a freshman, could also see time in the midfield.
'I feel pretty good about the midfield,' Wurzberger said. 'It's an area, though, where we got overrun in our postseason game at Santa Clara. Just having them back is not enough. We've got to get better in that position. These guys have to be better or we have to continue to find others who can play there and do the job for us.'
All eyes will be on the Husky offense in 2007. Forrest and Allen, having already established themselves as one of the top scoring duos in the nation last year, will be joined up front by U-17 U.S. National Team player McLoughlin. Having three stellar forwards gives Wurzberger some options when it comes to putting together his formations, a luxury most coaches would welcome.
'We will score goals this year if last year is any indication,' Wurzberger said. 'We know teams will come and shut Kevin down and we have to respond and put other people in, but that's the exciting part - what we can do offensively. I think you'll see us changing formation based on two goals: getting our best players on the field and playing more people. It could be a different look for us. Our opponents will have their work cut out for them, that's for sure.'
Forrest's 16 goals last year were the most scored in UW's 'modern' soccer era, three away from the school record set in 1987. Already tabbed as a candidate for national player of the year honors, the Edmonds, Wash., native will look to end his career with his best season yet.
But with Forrest attracting more attention from opposing defenses, it will up to Allen to help shoulder the load which he also did somewhat last year. A three-time All-Pac-10 player and the 2004 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Allen contributed seven goals and six assists in his junior campaign.
'Ely is also a player who's very gifted, more fluid than Kevin, but Ely hasn't had a great scoring record,' Wurzberger said. 'We're encouraging Ely to go to goal more and be less inclined to pass in shooting situations.'
When McLoughlin arrives on campus after competing in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, he could be an impact player right away. McLoughlin has been the U.S. U-17 National Team's leading scorer each of the last two seasons.
The Huskies will definitely have a challenging schedule in 2007, facing six opponents that are ranked in the preseason College Soccer News poll. UW will open the season at the Nike Portland Invitational against New Hampshire and Cal State Bakersfield (Aug. 31-Sept. 2). After a stop at Gonzaga (Sept. 7), the Huskies will then have their hands full with a tournament at New Mexico facing the host Lobos and SMU (Sept. 14-16).
UW will make its home debut versus Portland (Sept. 18) and entertain Furman and Denver in the Husky Fever Classic (Sept. 21 and 23).
Also on the non-conference slate is a contest at Creighton (Sept. 29) which will be a rematch of last year's NCAA first round game that was won by Washington, 3-0.
The Pac-10 slate will continue to be a grind with UCLA, the NCAA runner-up from last year, California and San Diego State sure to prove tough opponents being ranked in the preseason Top-30.
With a strong schedule awaiting this 2007 Husky team that appears to have all the ingredients it will take to win, it's now just a matter of living up to expectations.