Men's Soccer Preview: 'Cats Look To Improve in 2002
Aug. 6, 2002
It is only hinted at in the final numbers on Villanova's 2001 men's soccer campaign.
But those who lived it know all about just how near the Wildcats came to reaching their goals in the season just past.
"There were so many instances," said head coach Larry Sullivan, "where we just came up a little bit short."
There were three overtime losses, including an early season heartbreaker to Big East powerhouse Connecticut. On countless other occasions, Villanova seemed one converted scoring opportunity from turning a corner.
Yet, though the principals were disappointed at a 5-13 finish, there developed a strong sense of kinship that serves as the foundation for redemption in 2002.
"I think the kids were more disappointed in themselves than anything else," noted Sullivan. "Now they want to make amends and they have worked very hard in the off-season to step over that hump we just couldn't seem to clear last year."
In fact, there is cause for enthusiasm.
Villanova returns nine members of its regular starting lineup and welcomes 2000's leading scorer, Chris Edgar, back from a medical redshirt. David O'Donnell, a gifted transfer from St. John's University, will step into the other void in the starting lineup.
Another plus is the return of goalkeeper Jon Williams. Williams also spent the 2001 season on the shelf with a medical redshirt, which placed a heavy burden on the man he shared the position with in 2000, Sean Teesdale. The 1-2 punch in net should give Sullivan greater strategic flexibility than he was afforded in 2001.
What's more, Villanova welcomes a freshman class with 14 newcomers. Several appear to have the tools to help immediately and the improved depth should go a long ways toward helping the 'Cats remain strong in the latter stages of critical Big East Conference matchups.
"We learned a lot last year and now it is time to put that to the test," Sullivan said.
If there is one zone where improvement is essential it is in the area around the opponents' goal.
"There were so many points last season where we one goal on our part could have changed the whole complexion of a game," Sullivan stated.
Indeed, Villanova was shut out five times. It managed only six goals in its final six games of the season. It scored as many as three goals in a game only three times all season. Not coincidentally, each one of those contests resulted in a 'Cat victory (over Temple, Providence and Monmouth).
The solution to that dilemma, Sullivan believes, rests with a handful of his players.
"I think for us to have the kind of productivity we need we are going to have to score by committee," said Sullivan. "We need to have a group of players chip in rather than looking to one or two people to carry the offensive burden."
There are a host of promising candidates who seem ready to handle that assignment.
Among them is the club's second leading point producer of 2001, Colin Raws.
Raws, a junior, duplicated the numbers of his freshman year of 2000 with three goals and four assists in '01. That was especially impressive when you consider the native of Malvern, Pa., was hampered for much of September with an ankle injury suffered against Connecticut on Sept. 9.
"Raws had an excellent year in my mind," said Sullivan. "I'm not sure if he ever was 100 percent but he was an offensive threat and did some nice things for us in the midfield."
At 6-1, Raws brings good size to the midfield and he often finds his way into an attacking position. Most important, he has a flair for being at the right place in the right time near the opponent's net and can finish a play when the chance arises.
Another prime offensive threat is Edgar. No Wildcat demonstrated more promise in 2000 than did this native of Mahwah, N.J. When he was on the field, he became the kind of performer whom foes were constantly aware of. At 6-2 he has the size and skill to beat goalkeepers and also contributed defensively.
However, 2001 was something of a lost season for Edgar. He saw action in the season's first three games but a leg injury limited his effectiveness. At that point it was decided that he should shut it down for the season and apply for a medical redshirt. He did so and will return as a sophomore in 2002.
"There is no question we missed what Edgar brought us the year before," explained Sullivan.
Edgar will play forward and midfield in Sullivan's flexible system that often rotates players between those spots. As a rookie Edgar tied for the team lead in scoring and he offers a tantalizing set of tools that include a potent shot and quick feet. A key will be to avoid the trainer's room - injuries also caused Edgar to miss five games in his debut season.
Another scoring option is junior midfielder Scott Rodemer. Rodemer, a quick and clever player with the ball, took on more of a role on offense as a sophomore after spending most of his rookie year in the defensive midfield. The speedy product of Doylestown, Pa., scored three goals and added three assists and was voted Philadelphia Soccer Seven Player of the Week in October for his exploits in wins over Providence and Monmouth.
"We want to move Rodemer around and give him some more chances to score," said Sullivan.
Like Rodemer, junior Dan Massimini isn't the most imposing physical specimen on the Villanova roster. Yet he is superb with the ball and can beat his man in one-on-one situations. In addition, he is a gritty athlete who handles the rugged play in congestion well.
Massimini is a two-year starter who scored three goals and three assists in 2001. He will be counted upon to contribute offense again, both from the forward and midfield positions.
Another veteran who will be asked to contribute offensive power is the club's leading scorer from 2001, Anthony Rod.
Rod, who missed the 2000 season with a broken leg, rebounded in style in 2001. The Philadelphia native scored five goals and added an assist for 11 points.
A year ago Rod was listed as a senior. But the medical redshirt of 2000 gave him the option of returning for another year of soccer. He elected to do so and Sullivan is delighted with the decision. (Defender John Keleher made a similar choice.)
"Rod did a good job for us last year and we're looking forward to having him back," said Sullivan. "I think it says a lot that both he and Keleher wanted to come back. They both felt there was unfinished business after the way last season went.
"Rod brings a tenderness with the ball and is a good tactical player. He can strike a ball and we want to create some opportunities for him to help us score."
Sophomore Ross Brindle, who scored one goal and provided one assist, is also in the mix on attack. He saw action in 17 games as a freshman and made five starts.
The forwards will most likely be drawn from a group including Massimini, Edgar, and Brindle. Rodemer, Rod, and Raws can also be utilized at forward, though they will often do their attacking from the midfield.
This much is clear: Massimini, Edgar, Rodemer, Rod and Raws figure to be in the starting lineup on most occasions.
"It is critical that we finish our scoring chances," stated Sullivan. "We had a lot of chances last year but didn't finish as many as we could have. We have to realize that it's not just technique and experience. Succeeding at this level is about the determination to concentrate on excellence. It's not easy, especially for young men at this stage of their lives."
At the hub of the midfield will be sophomore Jonathan Lopuski.
A product of Montville, N.J., Lopuski logged a ton of minutes as a rookie. He generated nine points, including three goals, but Sullivan has a different role in mind for this talented second year performer.
"I want Lopuski to run the team," said Sullivan. "He is the one who can make us move and get us into our set pieces. We want to funnel the ball to Lopuski so that he can help us create chances.
"What I am not worried about - and I don't want him to worry about - is scoring goals. He needs to worry about making us better. I think he has the determination to do that."
Another essential ingredient in the midfield mix is tenacious senior Joe Caruolo. The Berwyn, Pa., native had his own injury issues in 2001 but missed no games. He assisted on three goals and was used in a host of different positions.
Perhaps most importantly, Caruolo brings a wealth of experience to the field. He has played in 52 games over the course of his career on the Main Line.
Another factor in the midfield is Kyle Cleary, a sophomore who contributed mostly as a reserve in 2001. With an additional year of experience Cleary should compete for a larger role.
The influx of newcomers will also be felt in the midfield.
Freshman Patrick Gallagher, from Harrisburg, Pa., should be in the mix as will classmate Charles Rowan, from Livingston, N.J.
Defensively the Wildcats are set with a trio of veterans leading the way.
Steve Leaman, a co-captain, is a team leader who often shadows the opponent's top scoring threat. He is an aggressive defender with a strong leg. In addition, he is good in the air and scored three goals last year. On offensive corner kicks he usually moves up into the box.
"Leaman learned from (former Wildcat standout) Jim Curtin and he learned well," said Sullivan. "The guys look to him for leadership and he handles that well."
Of course, the absence of Curtin - who completed his eligibility and is now in his second season with Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire - played a role in Villanova's difficult 2001 campaign.
David Jones, a converted forward, started all 18 games at sweeper and offered maximum effort.
"Jonesy is a good player who gave it his all but that wasn't the spot that best utilized his skills," Sullivan stated. "He did what was best for the team. But you don't replace someone like Curtin."
Jones graduated last spring. Yet Sullivan believes he may have found - one year removed - a natural successor to Curtin in the newly arrived O'Donnell.
"O'Donnell's just a terrific all-around player," noted Sullivan. "There are no illusions. He is going to run our defense.
"This young man is a great athlete, smart player and has good feet and vision. Now he just has to grow into a leadership role. Based on what we saw in the spring, I think he's starting to do that."
The leading candidate to join Leaman and O'Donnell on defense is Keleher. The native of Kansas City handled the left back spot for most of the season, though he was occasionally spotted at forward.
"Keleher did a solid job for us," Sullivan said. "He's a veteran who knows what it takes."
Several of the new faces could emerge as could sophomore Joel Scardelli, who saw spot duty on defense as a rookie in 2001.
Although goalkeeping wasn't a huge issue in 2001 - Teesdale was sound in posting a 2.48 goals against average and a pair of shutouts - the return of Williams should boost the overall productivity of the position. Both men are experienced keepers with different strengths.
"Teesdale improved last year and I expect him to be an important part of what we do this year," Sullivan said of his co-captain.
Williams returns to the net to offer increased competition with junior Pat Walsh. Williams enjoyed some brilliant outings in 2000 and Walsh made gains as Teesdale's understudy in 2001.
"I feel good about the situation in goal," Sullivan said.
While the athletes in his charge may have grown frustrated in 2001, Sullivan did not.
"I thought we might have to suffer through growing pains to get where we want to go," said Sullivan. "We played well at times but weren't able to consistently do it for 90 minutes. I think we've made progress there based on what we saw in the spring. I think we have taken a step up.
"Obviously, goal scoring is critical for us. The World Cup showed how important scoring the first goal is in soccer. We didn't do that often enough last year and it's hard to play from behind at this level of Division I.
"I like the attitude I have seen since last season ended. We have the plan. Now it's a matter of executing it."
The goal - aside from scoring more often - is plain.
"We are focused on qualifying for the Big East Tournament," states Sullivan.
If the Wildcats can turn 2001's near misses into 2002 success, such a goal will be within their grasp.