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2007 Men's Soccer Preview
The Liberty men's soccer team will open its 2007 season at home this Saturday at 1 p.m. against Mount Vernon Nazarene. A season preview follows.
The Liberty men's soccer team enters the 2007 season in an unfamiliar, but exciting position. For the first time in five seasons, the Flames will be without several players who became fixtures in the program. However, Liberty's cupboard is far from bare.
The Flames will return 13 letterwinners from last year's squad and mix them with 10 newcomers, several with college experience. Joshua Boateng, a 2006 Big South second- team honoree, Juan Guzman, Adrian Bumbut, last season's scoring leader, Toby Lewis, a double-digit points scorer in 2006, and Mike Gelatt, a key member of the defense in 2006, are among a deep pool of returners. Add in newcomers, transfers Daniel McGarry and Douglas Nyame and freshmen Darren Ammo and Chris Phillips, along with two freshman goalkeepers, and the Flames' roster goes three-deep at each position.
"We have a group of guys who come out every day and give us their best effort," stated Alder. "Collectively, leadership has become plural for us, and everybody on our team needs to be a leader. We can't rely on just one or two individuals. Everybody has to work harder in their department to make us better as a unit.
"We have a lot of guys who do that. We have guys who roll up their sleeves, who do whatever they have to do in order for the team to win. Our guys just want to go out and compete. While we don't have the guys who gave us the visibility we had last year, our guys are still going to go out and give a honest effort collectively on both offense and defense, being as good as we can, and at the end of the day, let the results take care of themselves."
Four years ago, Alder brought in his largest freshman class, hoping to build depth and internal competitiveness in his program. Over the past two seasons, Liberty depth has paid dividends, as the team has been able to weather injuries to several key players and not miss a beat. Led by 11 seniors, the largest senior class in Liberty men's soccer history, the 2007 Flames look to continue the program's mentality of team over individual.
"We have great depth this year at each position. We have younger guys playing over older guys, older guys playing over younger guys, as we take on each day's challenges. Yet throughout, we have to make sure we stay together," commented Alder. "Right now, the sense of humility displayed by our guys has been outstanding. They have embraced what we have talked about through Ephesians 4 and if we continue along this path, I believe God will do something great through this group.
"Despite the competitiveness for positions, our guys are willing to help guys they are battling for minutes with. Instead of being upset about someone playing over them, they are looking out for and helping each other. And that is going to allow us to be successful on the field and in life, as the guys embrace something bigger than themselves."
A look at this season's squad by position follows.
After three years of having its goalkeeping in the capable hands of Kevin Mahan, there will be a new face minding the Liberty net this season. Three newcomers – freshmen Panashe Nhekario and Paul Gilbert and sophomore Kyle Probst - are in competition to man the Flames' net in 2007.
"We're looking for consistency," commented Alder about the goalkeeping. "We feel these guys have bright futures and we are confident in each of them. They are pushing each other hard for playing time."
Gilbert has shown strong shot-blocking skills and confidence this fall, while Nhekario brings a solid soccer background into his first collegiate season. Probst saw action this past spring and proved quite capable of manning the Flames' goal.
A positive attribute of Liberty Soccer over the past several years has been the strength of its defense and once again, this season is no different. The Flames will be a talented and deep unit on defense in 2007.
"Our defenders did very well as a group this past spring," stated Alder. "We have a lot of depth at this position. Now, it is just a matter of who is the most consistent [to determine who will start]."
Last season, the Flames' defense held opponents scoreless five times and allowed only one goal during a five-game win streak toward the end of the season.
Leading the way for the 2007 defensive unit is senior Gelatt. The senior comes off a solid junior campaign, in which he was one of three Flames to start all 15 games of the 2006 season. He will be joined by fellow senior Andrew Kappler, an experienced member of the Liberty defensive corps, and junior Chris Mandell, who comes off a strong spring.
The unit will be bolstered by the return of Michael Ward. The sophomore returns to the Flames' active roster after sitting out the 2006 campaign with an injury. In his first season with Liberty in 2005, Ward started every game for the Flames and was named to the Big South all-conference second team.
Also, competing for minutes in the unit are senior David Cassidy, who saw significant time on defense in the preseason, and junior Juan Carlos Chavez, along with newcomers Nyame, a transfer, and freshmen Thad Taylor and Brian Edman.
The midfield is another place where the Flames possess considerable depth and experience.
"We have a lot of guys pushing for minutes in the midfield," stated Alder. "There are a lot of options there for our team and strong competition for time."
The unit returns several key components in 2007. Junior Boateng and sophomore Guzman both played key roles in the Liberty attack last season and stabilize the group. Boateng was named second-team All-Big South in his first year with the Flames in 2006, while Guzman started all 15 Liberty contests in his first season of collegiate soccer and was named to the conference's All-Freshman squad. Although limited by a sprained ankle late in the year, Boateng netted three goals and two assists in 12 contests last season, while Guzman had a solid first-year with two goals and two assists.
In addition, the Flames also return several players who have seen game action in the midfield. The group includes seniors Dan Garber, Jeremiah Kappler, John Letsen, Dave McCall, who provides flexibility by playing several positions, and Brandon Patterson, who is recovering from injury. Also included in this group are juniors Cameron Chastain and Bill Pinette, who returns from injury, and sophomore Chris Osborne.
Rounding out the unit are three newcomers, McGarry, Phillips and Chad Alford. Alder feels McGarry and Phillips could make an impact in their first seasons with the Flames. McGarry, a junior who sat out last season after transferring in 2006, has provided solid play and leadership during the preseason, while Phillips, a freshman, has shown high-energy play and a strong soccer IQ.
Up front, despite the graduation of some scoring punch, the Flames still have plenty of offensive options and scoring threats.
"Adrian [Bumbut] and Toby [Lewis] are two guys about whom, at the end of the year, the conference will say, ‘Wow, those two really did their jobs'," noted Alder when talking about the two Flames forwards. "They're both polar opposites. Toby wants to get into the box, make slide tackles, go after headers and get on the end of balls, while Adrian is one of the most dangerous one-on-one players we have ever had in this program."
Bumbut led the 2006 Flames in scoring with 14 points on six goals and two assists. This summer, he was named a member of the Premier Development League (PDL) All-Eastern Conference team, while playing for the Fredericksburg Gunners. Meanwhile, Lewis tallied 13 points on five goals and three assists in 2006. The senior attacker has scored four or more goals in each of his first three seasons with Liberty.
Joining the pair are freshman Ammo, sophomore Andrew Scheck and senior Justin Willoughby. Alder believes Ammo has a chance to score a lot of goals this season, as the freshman is hard to defend in the open field, finishes well and has a heavy shot.
Scheck gained a lot of experience through redshirting in 2006 and playing in the PDL this past summer and will compete for minutes, while Willoughby comes off a solid spring and will push for minutes this fall.
The Liberty Men's Soccer schedule will once again feature some of the nation's and region's best in 2007.
The Flames will play eight matches at the Liberty Soccer Field, including three Big South Conference contests with VMI (10/6), defending conference champion and 2007 favorite Winthrop (10/13) and Radford (10/23).
On the road, Liberty will face national powers Virginia (10/23), ranked fifth nationally in the preseason, and North Carolina (10/2), ranked 16th nationally in the preseason. In addition, the Flames will square off with preseason Atlantic Sun Conference favorite Campbell (9/5), 2006 Atlantic Sun Champ Gardner Webb (9/8), and compete at the UNC Wilmington Soccer Classic against the College of Charleston (9/14) and UNC Wilmington (9/16).
"We are going to out and play teams who will test us, help us grow as team and build visibility and credibility for our program," stated Alder about his non-conference schedule. "Our schedule will help us prepare for November when we go down to Winthrop for the conference tournament."
Liberty opens on Saturday against Mount Vernon Nazarene and will look to capture a conference title at the 2007 Big South Men's Soccer Championship, Nov. 15-18, at Rock Hill, S.C.
"It's going to be a great year for the Big South," commented Alder when asked about league play this season. "There will not be an easy game in the conference this season. On any given day, anybody can beat anybody else in the conference."