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Seeing Double: 2009 Men's Soccer Outlook
After finishing 2008 with an eight-game unbeaten streak, the Liberty Flames men's soccer team enters 2009 looking to capture its second Big South crown in three years and record a double-digit victory total for the third consecutive season.
The Flames return 20 players from last season's 10-5-3 squad. Liberty ended the season with an eight-game unbeaten streak, which was the seventh-longest unbeaten streak in the nation at the close of the year in 2008. The Flames will look to continue the third-longest unbeaten streak in the history of the program, when they host the Concord Mountain Lions to open the 2009 campaign, Tuesday at Osborne Stadium.
"Last year was another remarkable run for our team," said Liberty head coach Jeff Alder, who enters his ninth season leading his alma mater in 2009. "We overcame a lot of adversity in 2008, beginning with starting four or five freshmen at the start of the year.
"Then, Darren Amoo was lost for the season in the fourth game, causing us to have to reconfigure our line-up and talk about competing every day. It seemed to galvanize our guys and we took off with the seventh-longest unbeaten streak in the nation.
"The season ended in a disappointing fashion, when we fell on penalty kicks to Winthrop in the Big South semifinal, but a lot of great things happen last year in our ability to impact people for Christ through soccer and pick ourselves up in the face of adversity."
A trademark of Alder-led teams, the 2009 Flames will once again have an abundance of depth at each position on the field. Liberty has a bevy of talent and interchangeable parts on its roster.
"We want to have an attack-oriented style, and we feel we added to that with the guys we brought in this fall," stated Alder.
"Many of our players have been in our system for a while and bring experience and confidence to our play. Hopefully, a deep roster will make practices competitive each day, allowing us to make a run for the Big South title in November."
A Look at the Flames by Position:
The competition to determine who will be in net for the Flames in 2009 may have been the strongest during the team's preseason practice. Juniors Paul Gilbert and Andrew Madero spilt the net duties last season.
"It's been exciting to watch Paul, Andrew and Panashe Nhekario vie for the spot," commented Alder about his last line of defense. "We are going to be day-to-day in who plays here, but we are confident with whoever is in there."
Gilbert was named the Big South Freshman of the Year during Liberty's run to the conference title in 2007, while Madero backstopped the Flames' unbeaten streak and finished the 2008 season as the Big South leader in goals-against average at 0.68.
Nhekario, junior, and Kyle Probst, a senior, are also in the mix.
Despite the loss of all-conference defenders Michael Gelatt and Douglas Nyame, Alder believes his defensive unit may have more depth than last year.
"Chris Mandell and Greg White really have complemented each other as center defenders for us," said Alder. "On the outside, Michael Ward and Chris Osborne have earned the right to be starters at this time."
The Liberty coach looks for returners Brian Edmand, who is coming off a redshirt year, Thad Taylor, Henock Snook and Joe Piselli to push for playing time. Freshmen Zack Clark and Uriah Bentick will also see minutes at defender.
"We have a number of guys who are pressing for minutes at the position," stated Alder. "It will allow us to keep fresh players in the game."
"The midfield may be our strongest position on the field," said Alder. "We played a bunch of freshmen there last year, and while they played well, we are looking for more consistency from them this season."
Leading the deep unit is two-time South Atlantic All-Region midfielder Juan Guzman. Guzman, a senior, has been a fixture in the Liberty midfield each of his first three years in Lynchburg. He will be joined by sophomores Chris Phillips, Juan Nino and Alex Verville, who each saw significant minutes last season.
"Guzman and Phillips will be leaders there for us," commented Alder about the group. "Nino is strong on the dribble and takes players on well, while Verville stretches the field well vertically."
Add to the unit, Snook, Taylor and Andrew Jones, all returners who bring a different dimension to the Flames' attack, along with freshman Kyle Breitmeyer, and the versatility of the unit is quite evident.
"With our versatility and interchangeability," noted Alder, "we have a deep unit which can give us many different offensive looks and hopefully, cause problems for the teams we are playing against."
Up front, the Flames will look a little different this season, as Joshua Boateng has moved on to the professional ranks. However, Alder sees the cupboard far from bare at forward. "I really feel we have improved our depth up front."
Liberty will welcome the return of Darren Amoo, who scored four goals in three games for the Flames last season, before suffering a season-ending injury. He will be joined at forward by Virginia Tec transfer Phillip Aseweh.
Along with the two Ghana natives, returners Andrew Scheck and Timothy Bullock will see time at forward, along with newcomers Travis Joseph and Seth Buckmaster. In addition, Breitmeyer and Verville could also see time up front.
2009 Schedule Highlights
The Flames will prepare for a very competitive Big South Conference with several strong non-conference opponents, highlighted by trips to nationally ranked Virginia and North Carolina.
Liberty will host nine opponents at the new Osborne Stadium, beginning with Concord on Sept. 1. The Flames will also open Big South play at home by hosting Radford on Sept. 25 and defending conference champion Winthrop on Sept. 29 in back-to-back contests.
"From top to bottom, this may be the best the Big South Conference has ever been," commented Alder about the conference race. "Every game is going to be difficult."
"All of our teams have upgraded in personnel and facilities. The coaches haven't really changed a lot, so we all know each other. It is going to be an exciting year because there isn't going to be a lot of difference between the top and the bottom of the league. Don't be surprised if come tournament time, there are going to be a lot of close games and upsets."
Liberty will look to capture its second Big South Championship in three years, Nov. 12-15 in High Point, N.C.