Clarksville, Ark.-John Cossaboon's men's soccer team enters the 2013 campaign with high hopes after a disappointing year in 2012.
Cossaboon’s optimistic attitude for the upcoming season stems from returning nearly every starter, and the fact that a number of talented new players joined the program. Cossaboon, who enters his fifth season at University of the Ozarks, believes the talent level has increased dramatically since last season.
“The thing that sticks out most to me is we have some players,” said Cossaboon. “We have six or seven players that were not on the field last season who will contribute immediately. I think this is a year we can surprise some teams. If we can keep it together and keep injuries minimized, the sky is the limit.”
The Eagles finished 4-10-1 overall in 2012, but Cossaboon’s team appears ready to make drastic improvements from last season. Marcus Aldaba, Josh Duncan, Adrian Nunez, Patrick Shoulders, Cole DeVoss and Eloy Salgado form a talented senior class for the Eagles. Mixed with the senior class will be other experienced players, including defensive standouts Tony Ramos, Shaun Keane, Travis Leach and Junior Sandoval.
“It is a veteran team in the sense there is a big group of older players, but it is not a veteran team in terms of them playing together,” said Cossaboon. “We have a large group of guys that have not played together. We could have as many as six starters that haven’t played together.”
Salgado, a forward, is back from an injury. In 2011, he scored nine goals and tallied six assists. Both Aldaba and Duncan scored two goals and recorded four assists apiece. Keane and Leach scored three and two goals, respectively.
“Eloy has a gift in terms of talent,” said Cossaboon. “Having him out there makes us a much better team. Marcus is a gifted player, too. He’s had moments of playing at a high level and he has had periods where he has not been consistent. Adrian is the hardest working guy in practice and leads by example. He is a captain along with Josh. Josh works hard and is very intelligent with the way he makes the play move. My hope is to have those two be major contributors in what we are doing both ways. Cole is a player that will help us, too.”
Newcomers Thomas Mills and Gage Merritt are expected to provide the team with an even more offensive flare. Additionally, the speedy Matt Weaver returns for his sophomore season.
“Thomas and Gage will help a lot up front in the scoring effort,” said Cossaboon. “Thomas is tall, fast and athletic, while Gage is very crafty, skilled and composed. Gage can set the table for the other guys. Matt is a very fast and smart player.”
With a diverse range of scoring options, Cossaboon hopes to see his team put the ball in the back of the net in a variety of ways.
“We need to get numbers in the box and score,” he said. “I’ve told the team we should score from width, score from taking opponents on in the middle and score off our re-starts. Let’s be attack-minded. We have the players to play that way.”
Keane, an All-Conference defender, returns to roam the back for the Eagles, and transfer Austin Benner is set to take over in goal. Keane scored three goals and can play in a number of spots on the pitch. The talented Leach was impressive as a freshman and even bigger things are expected this season. Ramos was a standout defender a year ago and Sandoval has solid skills to make an impact. Benner will provide the Eagles with length in goal with his 6-foot-4 frame. Fellow sophomore Jarret Sadler has proven to be valuable in goal, too.
“Shaun is a go-to guy in the back,” said Cossaboon. “The back four could be young because Shaun may be moved because of his versatility. Tony was one of our top defenders and is an anchor in the backline and Junior is a steady defender. Austin has been phenomenal and Jarret has made tremendous improvement since last year.”
Meshing the unit together and figuring out roles is the team’s biggest question mark going into the season, according to Cossaboon.
“We need to get accustomed to playing with each other,” he said. “We have some good individuals, but we need them to blend together and function as a unit. The general concept is to attack, defend hard in the attacking third if we lose a ball, and then have the players do their job when we are in transition.”
The Eagles will host Ouachita Baptist University August 24 at 1:00 pm in an exhibition match. The Eagles will open regular season play August 31 at home against Westminster.