Here are five things to watch for as the Eagles open play in the newly-formed Sun Belt men’s soccer league:
THE OPENER: Today, the Eagles face a familiar opponent in Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs fell to the Eagles 2-1 last season in Statesboro. The Eagles will also play Winthrop on Sunday. The games are a part of the SoCon/Big South Challenge, which was scheduled before GSU left the SoCon. It will be their last year in the tournament.
THOR FEELING THE HEAT: When Sveinbjornsson got off the plane in Savannah for the first time, it was about 74 degrees outside. “He said, ‘Man, it’s hot here.’” Kennedy said. Kennedy received a highlight tape from the Iceland native, and new he wanted to get a closer look. “We get a ton of video, and 95 percent of it we filter out pretty quick, but with Thor, we could tell there was something there,” Kennedy said.
DON’T BLINK: With only a six-team conference, it’s easy to miss that part of the schedule. The entire conference slate will be played in a span of less than a month, beginning with Hartwick on Oct. 12 and ending with Georgia State on Nov. 8.
NEED FOR SEED: Howard came in academically ineligible for postseason play due to insufficient APR scores, so when the tournament is played in Statesboro beginning Nov. 13, only five teams will participate. The No. 4 and No. 5 seed will play the No. 1 seed in the semifinals, while Nos. 2 and 3 will also play in the semifinals, making the path to the title game awfully easy for the No. 1 seed.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Eagles will play nine of 15 regular-season games on the road this year, including trips to UNC and South Florida. Two of the home games will be a part of the Marriot Springhill Suites Invitational, when GSU welcomes Mercer, UNC Asheville and Florida Atlantic beginning Sept. 12.
This time last season, Georgia Southern men’s soccer coach Kevin Kennedy didn’t know if the Eagles will have a conference to call home.
That all changed when the Sun Belt announced it would sponsor the sport, and New Jersey Tech, Howard and Hartwick joined the three Sun Belt programs with an established program — Southern, Georgia State and Appalachian State.
The Eagles (9-10 in 2013) will host the first-ever Sun Belt men’s soccer tournament, and will also see Howard, Hartwick and NJIT visit this year.
They return plenty of experience, especially up front with Eric Dinka, Rocco Bagley and Jeremy Rector, who all share something in common.
“We’ve got a lot of experience at forward,” Kennedy said. “There are three guys on that front line who were all on the SoCon All-Freshman team.”
There is also a newcomer from Hafnarfjordur, Iceland, Thor Sveinbjornsson, who looks to have an immediate impact.
“One to keep your eye on is Thor,” Kennedy said. “He’s nailed down a starting spot in midfield for us. He’s very good, and I’ll think he’ll get better as soon as he acclimates to the climate here.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.