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Eagles have high hopes in 2011
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 There have been plenty of problems since Georgia Southern’s semifinal appearance in the Southern Conference soccer tournament in 2008, ranging from youth and inexperience all the way to swine flu.
    Coach Kevin Kennedy sees 2011 as an opportunity to see it all come together again.
    “We’ve made it very clear that this year we think we can compete for a Southern Conference championship,” said Kennedy. “It’s been two years since we’ve been to the Final Four, and we’re ready to get back there.”
    The Eagles (3-11-3, 0-6-1 SoCon in 2010) have gotten off to a good start this season. Through two exhibition games, they outscored their opponents 8-0.
    Luigi Clendening, who scored five goals as a freshman in 2008 and was named second-team all SoCon that year, has reemerged in the preseason s a leader for GSU.
    He scored twice in the Eagles’ 5-0, exhibition win over Lander.
    David Vargas Masis, a freshman from Costa Rica, was also a huge contributor offensively, scoring once in the Lander win and twice in a 3-0, preseason win over USC Aiken.
    “It’s just been a matter of seeing how our new players fit in with the returning players,” Kennedy said.
The Eagles have also changed their scheme in the offseason. They’ve gone from a 4-1-4-1 look to a more-aggressive 4-3-3.
    “It’s the same philosophy on possession” Kennedy said., “but now we just have more players forward. We have some exciting players we think can score some goals for us.”
    They’ve had eight games in the system — five during the spring and three more over the summer in Europe — and Kennedy is more concerned with how the Eagles close games this season than he is how they adapt to a new system.
    “I hope this year that the guys develop maturity and get over that hump,” Kennedy said. “We had so many games last year that were close, that we were right in until the last 10 minutes. Hopefully, the commitment they’ve shown will pay off and we’ll start getting the edge in some of those.”
    The Georgia Southern season begins at North Florida today at 7 p.m.
    The Eagles play five-straight road games before their home opener against Presbyterian on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 4 p.m.
    Southern Conference play begins Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.