Sept. 2, 2003
The 2003 Stanford men's soccer team has a lot to live up to. The Cardinal enters the campaign after earning back-to-back trips to the College Cup and finished as the national runner-up last year. Over the last two seasons, the Cardinal has combined for a 37-7-3 record.
But, many of the players responsible for the success over the past two seasons have graduated. The team lost six seniors from last year's squad. Roger Levesque (a two-time All-American and the club's top scorer for the past two glory-filled seasons) and 2002 All-American defender Todd Dunivant, lead the list. The two combined for 42 points last season as Levesque led the club with 27 followed by Dunivant's 15. Both also ranked among the nation's leaders in assists with Dunivant also a key component of the team's defense. Midfield standout Johanes Maliza, Academic All-American Taylor Graham, outstanding goalkeeper Andrew Terris, and the inspirational Taylor Ahlgren have all graduated as well.
"This year's team is much younger and there are a lot more question marks than in the last couple of years when we have had veteran teams," acknowledged head coach Bret Simon. "Physically, we should be very competitive, but we will be relying on younger and less experienced players. The idea is to meld these people together and build their experience."
Despite a younger and less experienced club that will look for significant contributions from an exciting freshman class, the cupboard has not been left bare. Stanford does return eight starters and 16 letterwinners from last year's squad on a team that has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the preseason NSCAA poll and still has high expectations for the season.
"The pressure will still be on because all of us desire to win a national championship this year," explained Simon. "Whether that's realistic or not, I don't think we'll know until we're deep into this season and find out how this team comes together. I'm an optimist but you never know where things will go."
The team's only two seniors - Abe Geiger and Mike Wilson - have been selected as co-captains with Geiger earning the honor for the third consecutive season. The duo expects to be two of the mainstays in the midfield and on defense for the Cardinal after each started 25 games last season. Wilson also provided some offensive punch a year ago, contributing 12 points on five goals and a pair of assists. His season included some big moments during a pair of double overtime games in the NCAA Tournament, scoring the first goal in a third round 2-1 victory over Furman and assisting on the game-winning goal in a 2-1 College Cup semifinal win against Creighton. Geiger picked up just one assist last year but anchored one of the nation's top defenses that allowed just 16 goals (0.61 per game) for the season.
"We expect Abe and Mike to provide great leadership both on and off the field as well as solid play," said Simon. "They are the two most experienced players on the team and should provide key links to successful teams of the past, while forming a backbone that will hold us together and help us progress."
The Cardinal expects to rely a lot on a talented nine-player junior class that features goalkeeper Robby Fulton and high-scoring forwards Darren Fernandez, Matt Janusz and James Twellman, as well as midfielder/defender Aaron Maines.
Fulton led the nation and broke Stanford's single-season record with a miniscule 0.43 goals against average last year, while adding nine shutouts and 62 saves as his goalkeeping keyed a Stanford team that ranked among the nation's best in goals against average (#4, 0.61), and tied for ninth in shutout percentage (0.52). He starts the 2003 campaign with the lowest career GAA (0.39) in Stanford history. Fulton was critical to the team's success a year ago, leading the Cardinal to six straight victories prior to its loss to UCLA in the College Cup title game. The Cardinal did not give up more than one goal in a contest after Fulton emerged as the primary starter. Fulton finished 14-3 on the season with all three of his losses coming by identical 1-0 decisions to national champion UCLA.
Fernandez is expected to be one of the team's top offensive threats with his aggressiveness and excellent physical tools. Last year, he ended up leading the team with nine goals and ranking third with 18 points, thanks primarily to a hot stretch midway through the season when he scored goals in five straight games, as well as a two-goal game late in the regular season versus Oregon State. The honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection has also become known for his clutch play, leading the team with four game-winning goals a year ago.
Janusz is Stanford's active career leader in goals (14), assists (eight) and points (36). He is known for a strong offensive game and is expected to be one of the team's leading scorers for the third straight season. Janusz exploded onto the scene with 22 points as a redshirt freshman in 2001 before adding 14 points to his career total a year ago.
Twellman broke into the starting lineup in late September a year ago, finishing the season ranked tied for fourth on the club with five goals and adding three assists for 13 points. Twellman earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition for his efforts. This year, he also may see time on defense after playing inspiring soccer at left back late in the campaign a year ago.
Maines was a key cog in Stanford's defense last year, starting all 25 games.
Other members of this year's junior class include midfielder/forward Sean Whalen, midfielder/defender Seyi Abolaji, midfielder/defender Todd Leber and midfielder Luis Gonzalez.
"We have a large junior class that has a lot of our team's fate resting in its performance," said Simon. "We are looking for all of these players to step up their play to a higher level this season and become the core of this year's team."
Sophomore defender Chad Marshall earned Soccer America Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2002. Marshall was named to the All-Tournament team at the College Cup after contributing offensively with the game-winning goal in a 2-1 double overtime victory versus Creighton in the semifinal match. He contributed five points on a pair of goals and an assist for the season. Chad is currently a starting member of the U.S. men's Under-20 National Team.
"Chad Marshall is one of the nation's top defensive players and should be critical in our defensive organization this season," commented Simon. "He had a wonderful freshman year, and we expect more of the same from him."
The remainder of the sophomore class is also primarily slated to see action on defense or in the midfield. Midfielder K.C. Coyne (11 G), midfielder/defender Ashvin Kumar (6 G), midfielder/defender Bronson McDonald (10 G) and defender David Oleson (3 G) all got into games off the bench as rookies last year and are looking for increased playing time in 2003. Walk-on goalkeeper Spencer Porter (Ross, CA/Marin Academy) also joins the sophomore class.
The team's group of freshmen is exciting and has been ranked among the nation's top recruiting classes by several publications. The class includes highly-touted prospects in players such as midfielder Marcus Ryan (Littleton, CO/Chatfield HS), USA National Team Under-18 goalkeeper Andrew Kartunen (San Juan Capistrano, CA/San Clemente Prep), Region IV ODP midfielder/defender Galen Thompson (Denver, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) and midfielder/defender Kyle Hency (Waterloo, IL/Chaminade College Prep HS). Other members of the incoming class include midfielder/defender Michael Brown (Clinton, MS/Clinton HS), midfielder/forward Stephen Ringer (Dallas, TX/Lake Highlands HS) and midfielder Bret Shimizu (Roy, UT/Roy HS).
"Our freshman class is truly exciting and hopefully one of the best in the country," beamed Simon. "It's a deep and talented group with exciting personalities. There are a lot of talented and fun people that I am thrilled to be able to work with for four years. This is a class that we should be able to build the future of the program around."
"As far as this season goes, you never really know what you'll get out of a freshman and how comfortable they will get in the transition to college soccer," continued Simon. "But, I think at least a few of these players will have a significant impact on our team by the end of the season."
Stanford has once again put together a challenging schedule, one that sees the Cardinal playing 13 of its 20 games away from the comfort of Maloney Field and facing six teams from the 2002 NCAA Tournament field, as well as playing eight teams either ranked or among those receiving votes in the preseason College Soccer News poll. In fact, the Cardinal will travel much further for a round of exhibition games prior to the start of the season when the team takes a nine-day trip to Costa Rica to play three exhibitions versus some of the top professional and international programs in the country from August 22-30.
"Hopefully, we will be able to use the Costa Rica trip as an opportunity to find what type of system fits our personnel and answer a lot of the questions that we have coming into this year," explained Simon. "If we can do that, we should be able to hit the ground running when the season starts."
The Cardinal begins the regular season with a pair of games at the California Tournament versus Cal State Fullerton and Old Dominion (September 5 and 7). The following weekend, Stanford travels across the country for the Brown Tournament with games scheduled against host Brown and Yale (September 12 and 14). Stanford finishes a six-game road stretch to start the campaign at the Tulsa Tournament versus the host Hurricanes (a 3-1 winner at Stanford last season) and nationally-ranked SMU (September 18-19).
Stanford finally opens its home schedule with the annual Stanford/Nike Invitational, playing games versus Fairleigh Dickinson and UC Irvine (September 27 and 29). A non-conference road game at local rival Santa Clara (October 2) will serve as the team's final preparation before the start of Pac-10 action at California (October 5). Stanford will then continue conference action by hosting Oregon State and Washington (October 10 and 12) before returning to the road at Fresno State and defending national champion UCLA (October 17 and 19). Those two opponents will return the trip to The Farm the following week with the Cardinal hosting UCLA just five days after their first meeting and the Bulldogs two days later (October 24 and 26). Stanford begins its final road swing at Washington on Halloween before contests at Oregon State (November 2) and San Jose State (November 6) complete the team's regular season road schedule. Stanford then takes nine days off before hosting California in its final regular season contest (November 15).
"It's a great schedule," surmised Simon. "Our heavy road schedule will be a challenge for our young team, our conference has been ranked as the top league in the nation for the first time ever with four teams making the NCAA's last year, and UCLA has most of its players back from its 2002 championship team. We try to schedule the best teams in the country, and we think we can be competitive with anyone."
"The main thing that we have to do before our preseason is over is get a clear picture of what this team is going to be all about," continued Simon. "There isn't a lot of time before we start playing matches, but we need to do be able to put our team together and have our players buy into the things we have to do to be successful. We have some good young players, but there are also some tremendous players that we have relied on in the past that aren't here any more. The other guys are going to have to pick up the slack rather quickly."
It will be a formidable challenge for a young 2003 Stanford team but one the Cardinal looks to be poised to take on.