The Georgia Southern men’s soccer team had unprecedented success last season, reaching the Southern Conference title game out of the proverbial blue and surprising much of the soccer world. The plan for a sequel?
“I definitely think there’s a sense on the team that they don’t want to be recognized as a one hit wonder,” said coach Kevin Kennedy, 2006 SoCon Coach of the Year. “They definitely want to follow up and try to establish themselves as a team that can consistently finish in the top four of the conference. People outside the program may conceive anything less than second as a failure considering what we did last year.”
The odds are once again against the 2007 squad, as they were in ‘06 when GSU was picked to finish towards the bottom of the league. This year the league’s coaches have picked GSU to end up in a tie for fifth place.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Kennedy. “I think we have, in terms of talent, we’re just as good. We have a deeper roster than we did last year. We probably have about 18 guys that could legitimately start.”
Despite the depth in talent, the Eagles have just two seniors, keeper Brian Young and forward Tata Nanje. Finding leadership is an early concern for Kennedy.
“I think the biggest question mark for us is what type of leadership we’ll have,” he said. “That’s probably going to be an issue. It’ll be interesting to see when the first whistle blows who’s really going to step up and assert themselves in a leadership role.”
Another question mark this year will be at the keeper position. Adam Webb (15 career shutouts) is gone to graduation, and Kennedy is primarily looking to Joey Ralph (So., Evans, Ga.) and Josh Veal (So., Lilburn, Ga.).
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles will look to forward Dan Smith who was the only Eagle named to the preseason All-SoCon team.
At midfield, GSU returns starters Scott DeVault, Julian Donaldson, BJ Reine, Sean Sandoval and Austen Peacock. Newcomer Thomas Eisenhart (Statesboro, Ga.) will vie for playing time as the season progresses.
On defense, Kim Kroken is a staple in the backfield. All the aforementioned will see plenty of action this weekend as GSU kicks off the season in Boone, N.C., at the Appalachian State University Classic. Kennedy believes this year’s schedule, which includes a live, televised game at UNC Greensboro, is one of the Eagles’ toughest.
Georgia Southern has just five home games, travels to Clemson and North Carolina State and must go on the road to face conference powers Furman and UNCG. The UNCG match, Friday, Oct. 26 will be broadcast on the Fox Soccer Channel.
“We’re really, really excited,” said Kennedy of the match on FSC. “We’re pretty excited about the opportunity to not only represent the Southern Conference, but also it’s going to be great exposure for Georgia Southern.”
Georgia Southern’s first home game isn’t until Sept. 19 against North Florida.
“There’s definitely a sense of belief this year,” Kennedy said. “I wouldn’t say the guys go into games expecting to win. But there’s the belief that we can win games now.”
Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.