2003 Husky Men's Soccer Preview

Aug. 20, 2003

'Building it back up.'

That has been the motto on Husky hearts ever since the books closed on the 2002 season, a year that was so uncharacteristic of Washington men's soccer tradition. Finishing with an overall record of 6-10-3, it was the first non-winning season since 1991 and the first losing season since 1968. And without a berth to the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies broke a string of seven consecutive postseason appearances.

It was a season 12-year head coach Dean Wurzberger would soon like to forget. But looking back, six of those 10 losses came by just one goal. And looking ahead, the Huskies return 13 letterwinners and eight starters eager to rewrite the tale of what was 2002.

'There is one clear goal and I think everyone on our team is aware of that,' Wurzberger said. 'We have a winning tradition and all our efforts have to be focused on restoring that, restoring the pride of playing for this university and bringing back notoriety to this school. I'm confident that we have every reason to expect a resurrection and a return to the success we've had in the past. If you look back to last season, as bad as the record was, we were in every game we played. We did have a couple exciting results that we can look back on and say, 'hey, the cupboard's not completely bare.' But until we get out and do it, we're only as good as last year. The 2003 season can't start a day too soon for me.'

Among the bright spots from last season was a 2-1 overtime upset of eventual national champion UCLA in Westwood, as well as a 2-1 overtime upset of fifth-ranked Cal at home. Brett Wiesner, an All-Pac-10 second-team honoree, emerged as the Huskies' main scoring threat, leading the team with seven goals and 15 points, while C.J. Klaas anchored Washington's midfield and was an All-Pac-10 first-team pick and an NSCAA All-Far West Region selection. Danny Waltman led the Pac-10 with five saves per game and his 10-save performance versus Cal on Oct. 13, was the second-best outing by a Pac-10 goalie in 2002.

The Huskies return some veteran leadership, but for the second-straight year, Washington will be a young team. Sixty-five percent of the players are freshmen or sophomores, a group that also includes nine newcomers. But according to Wurzberger, his new players have definitely filled some much-needed gaps on the field.

'We really shored up the defense by recruiting depth in our back line,' Wurzberger said. 'Preventing the number of goals scored against us will be job one on the field. The first thing we do when we hit the field, we'll re-establish ourselves as a tenacious, organized, tough defensive team. And that's a front-to-back responsibility, not just the back line and the goalkeeper. When you look at the statistics, the number of goals we allowed last year was so far out of our normal defending record that it is an obvious place to start. I feel that the people we have recruited and the players who have transferred in are really going to be helpful in terms of solidifying our defense.'

Not only will the Husky roster feature many new faces on the field, but the coaching staff will have a new look as well. Bill May, who spent the last three seasons as a volunteer coach, will taken on full-time duties as Washington's goalkeeper coach. Taking on the volunteer coaching duties will be Darren Sawatkzy who currently plays for the Seattle Sounders. Seth Spidahl remains for his third year on staff.

'We're excited about the new coaches,' Wurzberger said. 'It's a year of change on the staff, but we will function well together.'

Establishing that tenacious defense begins at the goalkeeping position. The Huskies have the luxury of two returning keepers in senior Danny Waltman and sophomore Chris Eylander. Both split the goaltending duties last season, and this year they will again duke it out for the starting position. Also returning from a redshirt year is junior Ben Oakley.

'With Danny Waltman returning as a senior goalkeeper, he will play an important role in getting us back to the NCAA Tournament, our immediate goal,' Wurzberger said. 'We're hopeful that Danny's last year will be his best with regards to his impact in goal. We think highly of Chris Eylander. He's a very bright goalkeeping prospect. He's a bit more experienced than he was last year, he's a better decision-maker and all the physical tools are still there. I'm confident that between those guys fighting for a starting position that we're going to get a good person in goal.'

The Husky defense will feature some familiar faces, but many new faces as well. Sophomore Kevin Murray, last year's team Rookie of the Year, will most likely move to the middle of the defense rather than playing the right back position he played last season.

Also anchoring the center of defense will be junior Joe Birklid, who now has the benefit of two years of experience. Birklid may be used as a right back as well. Sophomore Kenny Mueller returns to the Husky defense, while University of Rhode Island transfer Hans Esterhuizen from Pasco, Wash., can also play central defense.

Although the most experienced of the group, senior Seth Marsh will be a new face on the back line after playing the majority of his career in the midfield. Wurzberger has Marsh slated for the left fullback position.

'We think Seth can help us best there and it's the position of his future beyond college,' Wurzberger said.

Wurzberger is especially excited about the potential contributions of incoming freshmen Will Flanagan, Ty Harden and Matt Fischer.

'Will Flanagan looks to be ready to play right away and he will figure into the back,' Wurzberger said. 'Ty Harden certainly has all the tools, although I don't know how soon he will be ready. We're excited to have him in the back. Matt Fischer, who has all the tools in terms of size and athleticism, will be the back of the future for us.'

Change will also be the key word pertaining to the Husky midfield. Not only has Marsh been moved back to defense, sophomore C.J. Klaas will move to more of an outside midfield position from his normal center mid spot.

'C.J. played as a center mid with our attack revolving around him, but we've come to realize that he will have the biggest positive impact for us in an attacking role, probably down the right wing,' Wurzberger said. 'He had a very good spring there and we are confident that we have enough strong players that can take over the central midfield work, freeing C.J. to get the ball on the attack more and be a threat for us down the wing.'

A pair of returning sophomores will look to take on the role of central midfielder in Mike Chabala and Jeff Hoover. Both saw substantial playing time in the midfield last season and Wurzberger is confident that their talent will flourish that much more with a year of experience under their belts.

Also looking to help out in the central midfield will be incoming freshman Derek Crismier. Senior Troy Ready will be a strong left-sided midfield player, while transfer Leo Totev and returning sophomore Gavin Hobbs will look to contribute. Totev, from Norway, brings international experience to UW, while Hobbs is coming off a stellar freshman campaign. Hobbs could also serve as a utility type player, seeing time at both right midfield and right fullback. Sophomore Mike Cusenza will also be looked upon to make an impact.

Much of the scoring responsibility will lie upon the shoulders of junior Brett Wiesner and senior Sean Giudice, both returning from strong showings last year. Wiesner was the Huskies' leading scorer in 2002 with seven goals. Giudice also contributed three goals and seven points last season.

'We know that if we put Brett in enough positive situations in front of goal, he's going to score,' Wurzberger said. 'He's talented enough to get 10 or more goals. We certainly need a goal-scorer to emerge. He worked very hard in the spring and his early maturation years are coming as a junior and sometimes that's the breakthrough. It will be a big performance year for Sean. He has wonderful tools and if he can put it all together in regards to his focus and consistency, he could have a breakout year for us.'

Also looking to contribute up front will be junior Casey Armstrong and junior transfer Jay Voss from Tacoma Community College. Wurzberger has incoming freshman Kevin Forrest labeled as the attacker of the future, while Totev could also be looked upon as a second forward.

As has become tradition, the Huskies have a schedule that will provide some fierce non-conference and Pac-10 competition. Seven of this year's opponents played in the NCAA Tournament last season, including defending NCAA champion UCLA and NCAA runner-up Stanford.

On the docket for preseason competition will be exhibition games at home with cross-town rivals Seattle University and Seattle Pacific. UW will open the season at the Portland Nike Invitational with contests against UNLV and Oakland University. After its home opener with perennial power Portland, Washington heads to the Midwest to face Michigan and host Marquette in the Marquette Invitational in Milwaukee, Wis.

Washington's own Husky Classic will feature Kentucky, South Carolina and Portland. And like always, the Pac-10 schedule remains one of toughest in the nation, facing the likes of four NCAA Tournament teams from last year. The Huskies will also entertain Gonzaga at home in the middle of the conference season, marking the first time since 2000 that these cross-state rivals have faced each other.

'It is an excellent schedule,' Wurzberger said. 'Certainly one that will allow Seattle fans to see us play some quality teams here and then we'll of course have our challenges on the road. I like the tests that we'll have to face before we go into conference play. We'll play some excellent sides before then, which will hopefully prepare us for taking a run at the Pac-10 Championship.

'That sounds a bit far from the way we finished last year, but I wouldn't take that possibility off the list knowing what kind of team we can, potentially, put on the field. I am confident that we can make a better showing for ourselves than we did last year.'

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