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2006 Men's Soccer Preview
With a deep, experienced roster returning from last season, plus the decision of several players to make use of their final season of eligibility, the Liberty Flames enter the 2006 season looking to make a run at a Big South championship.
"Kevin Mahan's return to Liberty to attend graduate school along with Darryl Roberts and Osei Telesford, who both could have gone pro after last season, coming back for a final season of eligibility provides us with outstanding leadership on and off the field," stated Liberty head coach Jeff Alder. "Add Adrian Bumbut and Marko Parenta, and we have a core group of seniors that we feel can lead us to the next level."
Liberty returns eight starters from 2005 and 13 players who saw significant minutes last season. Always among the Big South's top teams, the Flames also welcome back offensive threat Roberts, who sat out last season due to injury, to this game-tested group of returners.
We created a very competitive environment in practice along with the schedule we play that has allowed our guys to gain the confidence they need to compete at a high level," noted Alder, now in his sixth year as head coach.
"It's a tribute to our guys, that last year, we lost Darryl Roberts, who is poised to become the program's leading scorer, two weeks before the season began and yet, we were playing for first place on the last day of the regular season."
Alder will add to this group several newcomers, both transfers and recruits, who will impact the Flames immediately with their play.
"We were very fortunate to land several guys who can help other guys get better," commented Alder. "They are players who come from great soccer backgrounds and are a great fit for our team and the Liberty soccer family."
"I have been here 19 years as a player and a coach and we feel this group is closer than any group we have ever had," continued Alder. "They are doing things off the field in the community and investing themselves in things other than soccer, on campus. This has fostered relationships both within the team and with others, which will hopefully bring about a unified group with a shared vision of excellence in all we do."
A LOOK AT THE FLAMES BY POSITION
What looked like a question mark last winter is one no longer with the decision of Kevin Mahan to attend graduate school and use his last season of eligibility. Last season, Mahan started 15 games in the Liberty net, posting a 6-7-2 mark with a 1.39 goals-against-average and a .731 save percentage. While giving the Flames solid play in the net last season, it is Mahan's leadership on and off the field which brings excitement about his return.
"Kevin is such a great person," stated Alder. "He had a tremendous year for us on the field last year, but he is a great representation of what a Liberty student-athlete should be and is."
Sophomore Michael Masmar will join Mahan at the position. The sophomore pushed Mahan last season for playing time and is expected to do the same again this season. In his first season, Masmar started one game and logged over 120 minutes in net.
On defense, the Flames return a deep unit which will be put to the test early with loss of Michael Ward, who was named Big South all-conference second team as a freshman, to injury over the summer.
Despite that setback, a strong unit is still in place, thanks to the emergence of junior brothers Andrew and Jeremiah Kappler and Michael Gelatt in 2005 as well as Michael Griffith this spring.
"We have a lot of options in the back," stated Alder. "It is now just finding the right mix of who to have out there on game day."
Andrew Kappler started every game for the Flames in 2005, while brother Jeremiah played in 15 games, making 10 starts. Gelatt, who began the season with an injury, came back to play in 10 games and, along with the Kapplers, provided solid play in the season's second half.
The unit will get a boost this year as Osei Telesford is expected to move back to defender after playing in the midfield in 2005. Telesford recently was named the 59-team Premier Development League's Defender of the Year for his play this past summer as captain of the Carolina Dynamo.
Last season as a midfielder, he netted six goals and had five assists in 15 games, earning selection to the NSCAA South Atlantic Region first team in addition to Big South all-conference first team honors. As a defender, Telesford was selected to the all-conference second team in 2003 and all-conference first team in 2002.
Also competing for playing time will be junior David Cassidy and sophomores Juan Carlos Chavez and Chris Mandell.
With several additions to the midfield this year, the Flames also have depth at that position.
"We believe we have added a few guys, who along with what we have returning, will enable our midfield to do what we need to get done and help us go to the next level," state Alder.
Liberty will return several key components to the unit in 2006. A member of the Big South all-conference second team last season, Adrian Bumbut returns for his final year after leading the Flames and being among the conference leaders with eight goals, five assists and 21 points last season.
Also returning are senior Marko Parenta, who enters the season healthy after battling injuries in the past, juniors Brandon Patterson, Dan Garber, John Letsen and Dave McCall and sophomore Bill Pinette.
Joining those returners are transfers Joshua Boateng and Dan McGarry, who are expected to make significant contributions right away. Boateng, a sophomore, transfers from Virginia Tech where he scored five goals and played in 14 games in 2005. McGarry, a junior, transfers from Division III Arcadia where he was a two-time regional All-American first team member.
Freshman Juan Guzman, a two-time Adidas/ESP all-star and former member of the United States U-15 squad, should also boost Liberty midfielder. In addition, fellow freshmen Adam Dupere and Chris Osborne could see minutes in the midfield.
After deciding to return to Liberty for his final year of eligibility, a healthy Darryl Roberts will provide needed scoring punch and play-making ability for the Flames.
A 2002 Freshman All-American and a member of the 2004 All-South Region first team, Roberts will open the season seven points away from becoming the program's all-time leading scorer. His finishing ability could open things up for others.
"Darryl does all the things you can't coach," stated Alder. "He is a guy who makes other people better. He draws two or three defenders to himself and is able to find the open guy. It is now going to be a matter of whether we can finish or not finish our chances."
Two players who may benefit from having Roberts in the lineup are returning starter Toby Lewis and Bumbut. After surprising many as a freshman two years ago, the junior proved himself a scoring threat by following his breakout year with 15 points on six goals and three assists in 2005. Bumbut, who will also play at midfielder, could also find himself up front to take advantage of his finishing ability.
Adding the element of speed at forward are sophomore Cameron Chastian and junior Justin Willoughby. Both will have the opportunity for playing time along with junior Jonathan Coache, another Flame who has come back from injury, the versatile Parenta and freshman Andrew Scheck.
Once again, Liberty will face a challenging schedule this fall. Alder's squad will host seven opponents at Liberty Soccer Field, while taking to the road for eight matches. Three of the top 12 seeds from last year's NCAA College Cup highlight a strong non-conference slate.
"For us to continue the growth and visibility of our program, we want to play the top schools," Alder stated. "Plus, in our conference from top to bottom, there are no easy games. The number of wins conference schools are getting outside our conference speaks volumes about soccer in Big South."
Liberty opens the season on August 29 by traveling to Longwood, before hosting Gardner-Webb on September 2 in the first home match of the year.
Next, the Flames begin conference play by traveling to Radford to square off with the Highlanders on September 5.
For the first time ever, North Carolina will meet Liberty on the soccer field as the Flames host the Tarheels on September 9. An elite eight team in last year's NCAA Tournament, North Carolina, ranked #1 in the SoccerAmerica preseason poll, is considered a favorite to win the NCAA Division Championship this season.
Liberty returns to conference play for its next four games, three of which are on the road. The stretch begins with a September 12 visit over the mountain to Lexington, Va., for a match with VMI, followed by a visit defending Big South champion Coastal Carolina on September 19. The swing concludes with road contests at Winthrop on September 23 and at 2006 Big South regular season champion Birmingham-Southern on September 30.
October begins for the Flames with a visit to perennial national power Virginia on October 3. The Cavaliers are also considered a favorite to claim the College Cup in 2006.
After the three road matches, Liberty steps back into Big South play by hosting UNC Asheville on October 7, before visiting Raleigh, N.C. for a non-conference game with North Carolina State. The Wolfpack was one of the top 12 seeds in last year's NCAA Tournament.
Back-to-back games await the Flames as they return to Lynchburg in mid-month. Southern Virginia will visit Liberty Soccer Field on October 13, while High Point squares off with the Flames on October 17, finishing out Liberty's Big South Conference schedule.
On October 20, Liberty makes it last road trip of the season with a non-conference match at Wofford, before closing out its regular season at home by honoring its seniors on October 28 against Campbell.
The 2006 Big South Men's Soccer Championship is scheduled for November 2-5 in Radford, Va.