Clarksville, Ark.-Despite nearly half the team made of freshmen, Head Coach John Cossaboon?s goals remain the same entering the 2012 season for the men?s soccer program.
Ten first-year players won’t change the veteran coach’s thinking regarding post-season play.
“We are making a conscious effort to get to the playoffs this year,” said Cossaboon, who is entering his fourth season at Ozarks. “Six teams go to the playoffs and our goal is to be one of the six.”
Ozarks was edged out of the playoffs last season after finishing with a 5-7-1 conference mark. With just one more key win, the Eagles would have been in the mix for post-season action. The Eagles must replace six starters and three All-Conference players. But the 2012 team welcomes a large influx of freshmen to go along with an experienced junior and sophomore group.
“Fifty percent of the team is brand new,” said Cossaboon. “It is a good balance of older players and younger ones. The young ones are responding real well. We don’t want them to be afraid, and fortunately we don’t have that out there.”
Ozarks features one of the most dynamic players in the American Southwest Conference with forward Eloy Salgado. Salgado, a senior, was named to the All-ASC First Team in 2011. He ranked among the ASC’s top-10 in shots (54), points (24), goals (9) and assists (6). Salgado, who had a pair of two-goal performances during the 2011 season, will be joined by two freshmen up front. Newcomers Dylan Amacher and Matt Weaver are candidates to play alongside Salgado.
“Eloy is dynamic up front,” said Cossaboon. “Our forwards will be a combination of Eloy and Dylan or Matt. Dylan is more of the big, strong scorer while Eloy is more of a magician with the ball. Matt may be our fastest player. I feel really strong in our forwards and our midfielders.”
A blending of experienced players and younger players will be the theme in the midfield. Juniors Josh Duncan, Adrian Nunez, Marcus Aldaba and Cole DeVoss provide a wealth of leadership. Duncan started in 16 matches and scored one goal and tallied two assists. Nunez started in all 18 matches and played the most minutes on the team. Aldaba had 13 starts and recorded two assists while DeVoss saw limited action due to an injury.
“Josh has separated himself,” said Cossaboon. “He could play forward or in the midfield. He has tremendous vision. His skill and soccer acumen is really coming along. I would expect to see Josh as one of the center midfielders. Adrian is more of a defensive midfielder. Marcus has done great. He will probably find himself wide on the field. He will be a major part of the midfield no matter where it is.”
David Cortes, Dagin Douglas and Weaver are among a number of talented freshmen who could see action in the midfield, according to Cossaboon.
“David is a very good soccer player,” said Cossaboon. “He’s not the kind of guy that is the fastest on the field, but he is very quick and smart. He is very much like an international soccer player. He could find himself in the middle, but could play wide, too. Matt or Dagin could provide us some stuff up and down the flanks. Both are very fast. I think on the whole we will be solid in the midfield. I think the attacking end of our game is going to be our strength.”
With a youthful team on the pitch, one of the challenges is teaching the players to defend as a group. And, if Ozarks wants to improve on its 6-11-1 overall record from 2011, the team must defend the whole field.
“I think as a team we need to learn how to defend as a group,” he said. “We have good instincts and have players that are good at defending, but what we have to become more than anything is a team that won’t let the opponent make crosses or create dangerous situations.”
The Eagles will be breaking in a new goalkeeper this season. Inexperience in goal will mean the backline is even more critical in providing strong support.
“With a new goalkeeper, it will put more demands on the defense,” he said. “We don’t have that tall goalkeeper, so we have to play a bit different in terms of closing out opportunities before they turn into bigger opportunities. We always expect the goalkeeper to come out quickly and shut down opportunities. Between his team defending and the goalkeeper anticipating and shutting down a variety of dangerous situations, we hope that combination will limit our opponents’ attack. If they want to shoot over wide from a distance, I don’t really care. We want to take away the more dangerous movements.”
Leading the effort in the backline is sophomore Shaun Keane. Keane was named to the All-ASC Honorable Mention Team after starting in 17 matches and recording a pair of goals and assists. Newcomers Travis Leach, Antonio Ramos, Noah Holle and Douglas have shown the ability to contribute alongside Keane.
“Shaun is a leader up and down the field,” said Cossaboon. “I could move him anywhere. He will be key in our restarts attacking and key in our restarts defending. He runs well and is the guy I am looking at as a leader wherever he plays on the field. Travis has good size and good physical presence. He has to get used to playing at the speed we play. He can become a very good centerback or outside back. Antonio is one of our quickest players who can play in the back. He can become a good attacking wide defender. Noah will help us out on the backline. Adrian can play in the back, but I’d rather have him in the midfield. Both Dagin and Matt could convert in the back. We will have to solidify the back four and take care of things in goal.”
With the team focused on returning to the playoffs, Cossaboon believes an emphasis on a disciplined defense is important.
“We started with an emphasis on defending, especially on pressurizing the ball in the area around the ball and keeping the opponent locked in,” he said. “We want to contain, possess the ball and then move with it and take care of it. That is the general theme right now.”