Clarksville, Ark.-Expectations remain the same for the men's soccer program as it yields to the new leadership of veteran head coach John Cossaboon.
Cossaboon replaces longtime Ozarks’ coach Dave De Hart, who stepped down to pursue other soccer opportunities in California.
Ozarks, which went 14-3-4 overall and 8-3-2 in conference play in 2008, appears to have the ingredients to stay among the American Southwest Conference’s elite.
“I want us to continue what’s been started in terms of tradition and quality soccer,” said Cossaboon, who had successful stints with the women’s programs at Southern Methodist University and University of San Diego. “But I want us to take a step up.”
Cossaboon inherits a solid core of returning players to go along with five starters. And, he believes the Eagles are equipped with a well-balanced attack.
“We are the kind of attacking team that I like,” said Cossaboon. “It doesn’t revolve around a superstar. We’ve got a lot of balance and a lot of strength from a lot of different people. It is the kind of thing where it won’t be one guy coming up with 25 goals, but rather it will be a well-balanced attack where goals can come from anywhere.”
One of the team’s strengths, according to Cossaboon, is the overall team speed.
“This team is fast,” said Cossaboon. “They are fast and technically quick. For the most part, we are good on the ball and good at combining with the people around us. The only way those attributes matter is if you are willing to do the work. And they have that attitude. They are a hard working blue collar group. Anytime I have seen us in a tough situation, they don’t back down. That mental toughness and that willingness to keep going is what will make the other stuff work.”
With their overall speed, the attack has the potential to score more goals than a year ago. Additionally, Ozarks returns most of its top weapons on the attack line, including five of the top eight goal scorers. Among those are senior captain and midfielder Shaun Renfro, sophomore forward Guido Salas, senior midfielder Dylan Evans, senior midfielder Philip Johnson and sophomore defender Anthony Santoro. Cossaboon also expects sophomore forwards Travis Murnan and Scott Janders to produce goals. In the midfield, Renfro, Evans and Brandon VanCleave provide the potential to create greater support and a more dynamic attack.
Renfro scored six goals and had seven assists in 15 matches in 2008. He was named to the NSCAA All-Region Third Team and All-ASC First Team. The fluid Renfro led the conference in assists per game (.47). Salas was among the top freshman in the league, scoring seven goals and recording eight assists. Evans produced five goals and one assist, while Johnson netted four goals and Santoro scored twice.
“Up front, we’ve got people like Guido, Travis and Scott,” said Cossaboon. “They are typical type forwards of one sort or another, but what really makes it work is the fact that we have players behind them like Dylan setting the table and making great passes to draw pressure off those forwards.”
“Philip is an attacking player from the flank. He is a dangerous player. I am very impressed with Brandon. He on his own can go through the midfield and create opportunities. In addition, we get some really good attacking movement from our outside backs. Logan Hornback and Seth Anderson can do a great job.”
Renfro and VanCleave give Ozarks a pair of dynamic players in the midfield.
“Shaun fits right into the mix when he gets himself healthy,” said Cossaboon. “He and Brandon together will be dangerous. I think the two of them would be a handful. Add in some strength and speed up and down the flanks and I think we will be able to score some goals.”
Cossaboon is, however, faced with replacing record-setting goalkeeper Brian Sarber. That’s one of the most pressing questions the coaching staff will have to deal with this season. Sophomores Christian Ridings and Neil Thompson are entrenched in a battle for the starting position.
“Between those two we just have to see who will surface and who will dominate,” said Cossaboon. “There is not much separating them. It is a question of can the competition push one of them up a little bit. I am not worried. We have a bunch of great defenders and we will be well-organized.”
Cossaboon has two types of keepers in Ridings and Thompson.
“Thompson is longer and better in the air when dealing with high balls and crosses, but at the same time he has to become a lot more dominate and more aggressive,” said Cossaboon. “He needs to be quicker to the ball which is exactly what Christian is all about. Christian is fearless. He is very good at cutting out balls that are dangerous. He needs to clean up his technique in terms of driving the ball with his foot.”
In front of the goalkeeper will be a young, but talented group that is expected to provide efficient defensive play. The cornerstone of the group is senior captain Aaron Brueckner. The savvy Brueckner has played in 54 career matches.
“We will not be a sit at the back defensive team, but rather one that is very organized in all areas of the field,” said Cossaboon. “I want us to play better, quicker-attacking soccer. I want us staying totally organized defensively. Aaron will vocally organize them and is emerging by example as our leader in the back. The nicest thing about our back four right now is they are all athletic and all fast. Those guys are tenacious.”
To become a more threatening team, Cossaboon believes his squad has much to work on as the season progresses.
“We need to continue working on our overall shape,” said Cossaboon. “We need to work on how we move up and down the field without allowing gaps to open up if we lose the ball, but that comes with time. We need to work on our first touch and we need to clean up some passes, too.”
The schedule will provide the Eagles with a challenge early on as they face a preseason top-10 team and open conference play with three straight road matches.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Cossaboon. “I don’t think you get anything at the start of the season by beating up a bunch of weak teams. You play the top teams you can play and then you find out what you need to work on. That allows you time to work on it before conference play starts.”