SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Men’s soccer head coach Jon Leamy begins his 19th season in charge of the program as the Bears head to Dallas, Texas, to open the 2010 season against SMU on Wednesday night. The Bears will look to continue last season’s success and make it back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Bears return two all-conference selections from 2009, including the MVC Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Riggs. But Missouri State will have to replace most of the defensive corp from a season ago. “It is going to be important for us to establish our backfield early,” said head coach Jon Leamy. “We lost three seniors back there, so we will be looking for guys to step up this season.”
Last year’s MVC Defensive Player of the Year Alex Riggs will likely get the bulk of the playing time in net for the Bears this season. Junior Nikolas Markos will push Riggs for playing time. Redshirt freshman Trevor Spangenberg and newcomer Andrew Riggs give the Bears depth at keeper. “We hope it is a healthy competition at keeper all season,” stated Leamy. “It is going to be important for our guys to establish themselves and continue to push each other to get everyone playing at their highest level.”
Missouri State will have a whole new look on the starting backline this season. After losing all four starters at the position from 2009, opportunity abounds for returning players and newcomers alike. Senior Chad Johnson is likely to fill one of the starting positions after playing in all 19 matches and receiving seven starts last season. Junior Thomas Vania could see time on the backline after playing most of last season at midfield. Sophomore Ben Griffiths, who was cleared to play late last season, is another candidate to start. Redshirt freshman Jarred Clark and newcomers Callen Roselieb, Tyler Groh and Sean Wilkins will vie for playing time on defense.
“We have jobs to be won on the backline,” affirmed Leamy. “We have returners and newcomers that can fill the positions and, if needed, maybe even a position change for someone.”
The Bears have a plethera of players with experience at midfield. Senior Brandon Durk and juniors Gerard Barbero and Edin Sabic return as prime candidates for large chunks of playing time this season. Newcomers Matt Bray and Dan Williams will battle for playing time at midfield. Heath Melugin, Eric Martin, David Buckenheimer, Jordan Hoffman, Michael Lapira, Justin Scicluna, Jared Gain, Tyler Vieth, Clark, Groh, Vania and Wilkins all can play midfield and give the Bears options.
“There is an opportunity at midfield for some guys to step up this season,” Leamy remarked. “There are a number of guys that are versatile enough to play midfield or forward for us.”
Senior Paul Paradise will anchor the Bears offense up front. Freshman Cole Alexander looks to join him at forward while Melugin, Buckenheimer, Hoffman, Martin, Lapira, Gain, Scicluna and Vieth can also play up front. “We hope we can score goals as a team this season,” asserted Leamy. “We have a group of newcomers that will be versatile. We will take a look at these guys and see where they fit best to help this team.”
Missouri State will travel to UMKC on Monday, September 6, before returning to Plaster Field for the regular season home opener on Friday, September 10, against Green Bay. Kickoff against the Phoenix is set for 7:30 p.m.
Ole’s Notes – Rigg’s is a lock at goalkeeper, I look for Spangenberger to get some opportunities if his season in Florida was useful.
On the backline, Vania is smart and skilled and showed well in the tough games last year. His central partner is a question mark. Johnson didn’t get much playing time during the exhibition season which would lead me to believe that Cal Roselieb, the freshman from Chicago, has a real opportunity. Ben Griffiths is likely at outside left and Clark got most of the time at outside right. Griffiths offers an attacking option which enhances his opportunity.
The midfield should be Durk, Sabic, Barbero and Buckenheimer. Martin and Lapira will get plenty of minutes on the outside and freshman Jared Gain has shown enough that I expect him to also earn minutes. Barbero and Buckenheimer are key, starting outside but will also earn minutes in the middle.
Upfront, it’s a three man rotation with Paradise locked in and Melugin or Hoffman working with him depending on a variety of factors. Melugin and Hoffman will rotate into the central midfield on occasion as well with Martin and Gain getting minutes up top. California recruit Cole Alexander is being touted he has shown well in the brief minutes I saw him, as did Tyler Vieth from Evansville. Nice to see some competition across the board.