Clarksville, Ark.-The 2011 men's soccer team will rely on a core group of seniors and improved depth in their quest to return to post-season action.
Ozarks returns eight starters, including seven seniors, and have a slew of other players with game experience. Seniors Tanner Holman, Logan Hornback, Travis Murnan, Christian Ridings, Guido Salas, Tony Santoro and Neil Thompson lead the surge for a post-season possibility. It is that group of seven seniors that gives the team its veteran leadership and experience in the competitive American Southwest Conference.
“There is a lot of experience in those older guys,” said head coach John Cossaboon. “They know what to expect. It is a very good group of seniors and they are all solid. For seniors, they either don’t show up for their senior year or they play like they have nothing left. In essence, they have nothing left. This is their year to perform. I’m expecting good things from them. This team is focused on getting back to the playoffs and doing some damage.”
Ozarks, which finished 5-12-0 in 2010, suffered a rash of unfortunate injuries that forced a number of young players to step into starting roles. The Eagles lost ASC Offensive Freshman of the Year Scott Janders and Salas, an All-Conference forward, to injuries after just eight matches. After Janders and Salas went down, the Eagles accounted for only seven goals, and finished the season with 17.
Cossaboon recognizes his team cannot afford to go through another season without putting goals in the back of the net. The team’s approach to scoring goals this season will involve using a number of attacking midfielders.
“We have a lot of attacking type midfielders,” said Cossaboon. “But based on the people in the positions we have, we will need to find some forwards. I think we will convert a player or two up front. We will be playing with four or five different midfielders at times. Goals will come from our guys out wide and those coming out of the midfield. Any one of them can get forward and score goals. Tony can shoot from range, and he can turn a ball. I would like to pair him with a break-away type player.”
Five players return that scored at least one goal, but the Eagles lost their top goal scorer from last season.
“We must find ways to score goals,” he said. “And that means, we want everyone scoring, but you need that one guy that becomes dominate at the right time of the year and gets himself ten or eleven goals. I’d like to see one guy rise and score a ton of goals. We have to have someone who takes it on their back and is disappointed if they don’t score a goal a game.”
With 11 career goals and 12 career assists, Salas is among the conference’s most dynamic players. Salas still had three goals in a shortened season. Midfielders Marcus Aldaba, Josh Duncan, Cole DeVoss, Eloy Salgado, Adrian Nunez, Santoro and Holman, give the Eagles viable goal scoring ability in the attack. Aldaba, a sophomore, tallied two goals and earned All-Conference honors. Santoro contributed four assists and was also an All-Conference player. Holman recorded one assist and started in 14 matches. The sophomore trio of Nunez, Duncan and DeVoss developed as the season went on and combined for nine points.
“Guido must stay on the field,” said Cossaboon. “He is skilled and exciting and as fast as a forward needs to be in this conference. He has all of it. If he can get healthy and stay healthy he will score goals. I think he will become a very important player as the season goes by. Tony and Tanner can be legitimate All-Conference type players. It is just a matter of sustaining their play. They need to produce. Marcus is a creative, flashy player. He might be a surprise. I think we will see big things out of Eloy. Adrian carried us in the midfield defensively last year.”
Last season the Eagles sported a number of freshmen in the starting lineup. Cossaboon believes that will be advantageous this season.
“We have some players that played great roles and have grown tremendously since last year and will now be sophomores,” he said. “On the whole, the seniors will have to lead and the other guys will have to follow that lead.”
With improved offensive production, the Eagles can then turn to its defensive effort to secure matches. Hornback spearheads a defensive unit that can be considered the team’s strength. Murnan also returns as a hard-nosed defender. Hornback also proved to be an offensive threat, scoring a pair of goals en route to earning All-Conference honors. A few players from the freshmen class are also expected to find playing time as defenders.
“Logan is no question a leader,” said Cossaboon. “He is at least All-Conference level. Travis is an All-Conference type player, too. Shaun Keane and Cole Parton are two tough freshmen defenders. Those are guys that will have to step up. Danny Garcia is fast and a solid defender. We just need to find the right blend of guys that play well together. I feel good from the back nine players. I think defensively we will be sound and I think we will play very good soccer in midfield.”
Thompson is the returning starter in goal for Ozarks. He owned a 1.75 goals against average and collected 92 saves and four shutouts. The Eagles also boast two other experienced goalkeepers in Christian Ridings and transfer Matt Mouer.
“Neil is the one who has had the experience, but he can’t take anything for granted,” said Cossaboon. “He has to earn it. Once he got the chance he started climbing. He has gotten stronger and has gotten better. The key is continuing that and keeping it going. It is a good feeling to have three goalkeepers.”
Added depth in each position allows Ozarks to play with a relentless attitude, something the team will have to do, according to Cossaboon.
“We are looking to become a relentless team,” said Cossaboon. “We are not going to beat people with size. We are going to beat people by playing soccer. We need everyone firing and everybody pressuring. We need everyone excited and quick to the ball. And when we get it, we must not turn it over. We need to come together quick in terms of defensive shape and organization. On the whole, we probably go another three or four players deep. It won’t be as drastic a change if we need to replace a starter.”
With last year behind them, the team’s mentality and focus has been solid. Missing the playoffs last season has fueled the team.
“I believe the guys learned something from last year,” said Cossaboon. “They are approaching this season with the idea of having something to prove. Nobody wants to go through an injury-riddled season like last year. But throughout last year they stuck together and kept their heads up. I think this is a group with a lot of pride. We have something to earn back. I am excited at what can happen.”
The Eagles open the season in Memphis against Millsaps College September September 3 and Rhodes College September 4.
Video preview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0BwNKfX6lg