2004 Husky Men's Soccer Season Preview

Aug. 12, 2004

How does a Husky men's soccer team rebound from one of its worst seasons in program history? Well, only by advancing farther in the NCAA Tournament than any previous Washington team.That was the Huskies' answer in 2003. A trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 and only an overtime loss to Saint Louis kept them away from a spot in the Elite Eight. One might have trouble believing UW had won only six games the previous season.Last year saw Washington restore the long tradition of success established in the program. What does 2004 hold in store? With 12 letterwinners returning, including NSCAA first-team All-American C.J. Klaas, the sky is the limit.'Everyone knew what 2003 was going to be like,' UW head coach Dean Wurzberger said. 'It was going to be a commitment by everyone to build a program back up, to hit the high notes we were used to hitting in the past. We think that with a bulk of those players returning and what we think is a banner recruiting year, reaching new heights could very well be this year's theme. We have every confidence we can take it beyond where we did.'The Huskies will have lofty goals ahead. In 2003, Washington finished with an overall record of 13-5-2, 5-4-1 in the Pac-10, and opened the season with its best start since 1998 going 7-0-1. In fact Washington's first loss of the season did not come until Oct. 3, to No. 2 UCLA. Season highlights included a 3-0 shutout of No. 11 South Carolina and a 1-0 win over No. 16 Oregon State in the regular season finale to secure a first-round bye in the postseason.UW made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, but lost a 3-2 heartbreaker in overtime to No. 4 Saint Louis. Senior goalkeeper Danny Waltman had the year of his career and eight Huskies were named to the All-Pac-10 team. Klaas, a Hermann Award finalist, also became the first Husky ever to earn NSCAA first-team All-America honors.To reach new heights in 2004, Wurzberger will rely on Klaas, along with seven other returning starters, to shoulder that load. Klaas, who will move to right fullback this year, is also one of four seniors who will take the reigns of team leadership, along with forward Casey Armstrong, defender Joe Birklid and forward Brett Wiesner.'The four senior leaders are going to be key, two at the back - Joe and C.J. - and two up front - Wiesner and Armstrong,' Wurzberger said. 'We're really pleased that they have shown the commitment you'd want from a senior class. They seem super energized and excited about their last year.'While senior leadership is in place, Washington will also have the challenge of integrating 10 newcomers into the program. All 10 boast quite impressive resumes and many have a shot at seeing some valuable minutes during their rookie campaigns.'We're really excited about the incoming class,' Wurzberger said. 'Our goal was always to add to the attack. If we can prevent goals like we did last year and add to our forward line, we are going to be a force. But the freshmen need to blend, they need to learn very quickly how we operate. We've already implemented ideas to smooth out that transition.'Wurzberger has no problem relying on freshmen, as two players that shored up his defense in 2003 were rookies Ty Harden and Will Flanagan. Last year, Kevin Forrest also offered offensive firepower up front, scoring three goals. This year, three freshman strikers - Ely Allen, Brett Hite and Spencer Schmidt - could have an immediate impact on the offense - helping the Huskies replace graduated senior and leading scorer Troy Ready.'I think we've got all the ingredients to have a special year, maybe the best ever,' Wurzberger said. 'At the end of the day, good players will play well and as a staff we have a very good feeling that we have the pulse beat of this team. It's just like last year, we can't wait for August to come so we can get on the field and get after our first opponent.'GOALKEEPERS
One might think that replacing an All-Pac-10 goalkeeper, who ended his career among the top in Washington history, would be a tall task. Danny Waltman graduated with big shoes for his predecessor to fill.But junior Chris Eylander, who has watched Waltman and waited in the wings for two years is ready to take on a starting role. And according to Wurzberger, Eylander might have even more talent than this mentor.'Danny had a good season last year, but we have every confidence that Chris will have exactly the same,' Wurzberger said.'Chris is probably more overall talented than Danny because of his size and athleticism. And if he can have the type of year Danny did - we expect that or even higher - Chris could be a huge step-in for us, not losing a beat there at all.'Eylander isn't a complete stranger to a starting role, as he started eight games as a freshman, recording one shutout. Last year, he played in two games and started just one.The Huskies will have two incoming freshmen goalies to back up Eylander in Jordan Jennings and Cameron Copps-Tilley. 'Right now, Chris looks so strong and they look like they're going to need a year of training. Obviously someone is going to have to back up Chris and be ready to go in should we need him so it's going to be an interesting competition for that second spot,' Wurzberger said.DEFENDERS
One of the Huskies' keys last year was to cut down the number of goals scored against them. UW shored up the backline and the end result was allowing just 18 goals, second in the Pac-10. Despite losing Kevin Murray who transferred to Pacific Lutheran University, the Huskies return their main defenders and add Klaas, one of the best collegiate players in the nation who has been a mainstay of the Husky midfield.'We've made a big decision to play C.J. there,' Wurzberger said. 'That's where we think C.J.'s future is at the next level and after it's all said and done, we think he can have a huge impact there for us next fall. He should be the premier outside back in America in Division I soccer, in any level soccer. And if you're playing in an attacking way and you use your fullbacks to attack, he'll be involved in the offensive play.'Occupying the centerback spots will be sophomores Ty Harden and Will Flanagan, who as freshmen, started all 20 games in the backline last year. Wurzberger feels Flanagan's best position is right back where he played last season, but will move to the center to make room for Klaas. Harden occupied the centerback position during his rookie campaign and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors.Birklid and juniors Gavin Hobbs and Jeff Hoover will also lend their experience to a talented defensive corps. Sophomore Matt Fischer, who played in just one game last year but had a strong spring, could contribute this coming season.Incoming freshmen who could battle for time in the backline are Adam West, Keith Cain and Kyle Schmid.Wurzberger also describes redshirt-freshman Derek Crismier, who tore his ACL last season, as an 'ace up his sleeve' either in the backline or in midfield. 'Derek hasn't played for us yet and he was so highly touted coming out of high school - the Gatorade Player of the Year - we have high expectations that he'll have a big impact.'MIDFIELDERS
Wurzberger would not have felt confident enough to move All-American Klaas to the backline if he didn't have a solid group of midfielders returning. One of those key players is junior Mike Chabala.Chabala, an All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection in 2003, remains the holding central midfield player for the Huskies. Chabala, who had two assists last year, joined Flanagan and Harden as the only players to start all 20 games last season.Junior Leo Totev, who was a pleasant surprise for the Huskies last season scoring five goals in the month of September, will also be a huge impact player at midfield. Totev ended his debut year at Washington second on the team in goals (5) and points (13).Other returning veterans include juniors Evan Cummings and Mike Cusenza. Hoover can also play in the midfield. Washington's depth at midfield will also be aided by freshmen Eric Blythe and Nick Loveless. Crismier is a potential midfield player as well.FORWARDS
Depth is the key word at the forward position for Washington. Like at the goalkeeping position, Wurzberger is not worried about losing forwards Troy Ready and Sean Giudice to graduation. In fact, he says his strikeforce is even stronger than last year.'A lot of coaches will say you live and die by your strikers, they have to get you goals,' Wurzberger said. 'Maybe last year our hands were tied a bit with only a couple options. Well, we have added many more options so if someone is off their game, we will have another player who can step in and pick up the slack. We would also expect three freshmen to have a chance to see major minutes.'Washington's three main returners are Armstrong, Forrest and Wiesner, while the highly touted freshmen trio of Allen, Hite and Schmidt will breathe new life into the offense.Armstrong scored four goals and added three assists last year, and was also a Pac-10 Player of the Week award winner. Wiesner, a two-time All-Pac-10 selection, played in just 13 games after being sidelined for the first month of the season due to a strained hamstring. Despite the injury, Wiesner scored two goals and added four assists. Forrest made an impressive debut in the frontline, aiding the Husky attack with three goals and one assist.Wurzberger is just as excited about the three freshmen, two being high school NSCAA All-Americans, who will be added up front. Allen, Hite and Schmidt all come to Washington as highly decorated forwards.SCHEDULE
The Huskies certainly will not have it easy when they take the field starting Sept. 1. Meeting them on the pitch will be many of the nation's top teams, both home and away.Like they learned last season, a strong start to the season is crucial for a strong ending. Undefeated through September in 2003, the Huskies will have their work cut out for them to repeat that feat.After its season opener with intrastate rival Gonzaga on Sept. 1, Washington will travel to the East Coast to face UConn in Storrs, Conn., and last year's NCAA runner-up St. John's on its home pitch in Jamaica, N.Y.Then it's down to Las Vegas, as the Huskies will take on Creighton and UNLV in the UNLV FILA Invitational. Rounding out Washington's six-game season opening road trip will be a a mid-week match at Northwest rival Portland, which happens to be the first men's soccer night home game in Pilots' history.By Sept. 17, Washington will welcome the sight of Husky soccer field. The Huskies will then host back-to-back tournaments, making their home debut versus Saint Mary's in the opening round of the Husky Invitational.Like always, the Pac-10 will promise some exciting and challenging soccer for Washington. UCLA, returning Pac-10 champion, looks to be another top opponent, while Cal figures to finish up at the top as well, according to Wurzberger. But don't count the Huskies out either.'Washington is going to be voted at the top-half of the conference, maybe the top-two,' Wurzberger said. 'So at the end of the day we will be making a serious run at the title. Putting us in a position to win our second ever Pac-10 title is certainly within our grasp - with the way we finished last season and with what we've added.'With the way the Huskies played last year and with the combination of established veterans and highly touted newcomers comprising the 2004 team, it is easy to believe that anything is within their grasp - like reaching new heights.