SEASON OUTLOOK: Lions Look to End Postseason Absence
Top-40 Recruiting Class has LMU Excited for 2007 Season
Aug. 29, 2007
"We will have to be ready to play right away, every game this season," LMU head coach Paul Krumpe says when examining his young roster and its competitive schedule. Despite the program's eighth consecutive non-losing season in 2006, the Lions were left on the outside of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, a reality that Krumpe is determined to change.
"One of our goals this year is to not only return to the NCAA Tournament but to progress further than any LMU squad in the school's history," Krumpe said. "I believe we have the talent to do that but it requires us to come together quickly as a team and to have several new players step up and contribute immediately."
Krumpe is referring to the 11 new players he has brought in to replace his five departed starters and to give the team more depth than it has seen in years. The Lions lost three All-WCC performers in Bobby Burling, Junior Ybarra, and junior Diego Barrera, as well as David Niemeyer, meaning that the Lions will be without the services of four of their top eight goal-scorers from 2006. However, the good news for Krumpe is that he still has some firepower at his disposal. Junior forward Brad Stisser tied with Burling for the team lead with four goals while senior midfielder/forward Nick Blanco had a pair of goals and a team-high four assists in just 13 games en route to earning First Team All-WCC honors. Also back are junior defender Jawaan Delaney, an All-WCC honorable mention player in 2006, and senior midfielder Trini Gomez, who led the team in scoring as a sophomore.
Still, Krumpe is looking for someone to put the ball in the net. LMU scored 24 goals in 2006, its lowest total since 1998, and suffered seven of its eight defeats by a single goal. "We need goal-scorers and to be more aggressive offensively," Krumpe said. "Whether it means switching our formation and tactics or just having better results from our scoring opportunities, we need to score more. I'm looking for our veterans to provide some of that offense but also needing our freshman class to get up to speed." Considering that the 2007 LMU recruiting class was ranked in the top-40 in the nation by College Soccer News, there is no reason to doubt that Krumpe's new boys will live up to his expectations.
Of the 11 players Krumpe brought in, four are forwards, showing that the coach means business. "Our main focus of this recruiting class has been to bring in attacking players who score goals," said Krumpe. "We felt it was essential to recruit players with the potential ability to score goals for LMU from day one. With this class, I think we have certainly accomplished that goal."
Leading the charge is Rafael Baca (Lawndale, CA), a highly decorated player out of Animo Leadership High School in Inglewood. Baca scored 58 goals and received First Team All-CIF honors. A fast player with great skill on either foot, Baca is one of those players Krumpe anticipates to make a huge splash during his LMU career.
Sharif Khatib (Palmdale, CA) is another natural forward who figures to be an immediate contributor. Khatib scored 24 goals with 12 assists during his senior season at Palmdale's Highland High School and will do well to put pressure on opposing defenses.
While Khatib and Baca are shorter players who can run at defenders, Nate Fischer (Brea, CA), a 6-2 forward from Brea Olinda High School, gives the Lions size on set pieces. In addition, sophomore transfer Steffen Canty (Coto de Caza, CA) joined the team from Tulsa in the spring season and has already generated a rapport with his Lion teammates.
Not to be overlooked, of course, are the veterans who will contribute to the Lion attack. Blanco enters his senior season poised to enter the LMU top-10 for career goals while expanding upon his personal accolades. Already one of the top players in the WCC, having been named All-WCC twice in his three years on the Bluff, Blanco will need to be at his best for the Lion offense to really click. Gomez saw his goal tally drop from a team-high six in 2005 to just one last year and thus will be looking for a return to his old ways. With those two pushing the attack from either the forward or midfield positions, the Lions could have multiple offensive weapons bearing down on the opposing goal.
Also figuring into the mix are senior Tyler Mehl and redshirt freshman Andrew Morris. Mehl has been a steady force off the bench for the last three years and will give the Lions more depth and experience. Morris will be eager to make his LMU debut after a year of practicing with the squad.
Krumpe is putting exceptional weight on the midfield to help in the scoring department as he searches for the right alignment and personnel to get the job done in front of goal. The coach has been preaching more attacking from the midfield and will look to Blanco and Gomez for that spark if they are not playing up front. Also key to controlling the midfield play will be Stisser, who showed his knack for finding the net with four goals in his first season at LMU after transferring from Coastal Carolina. Stisser started just 10 games in 2006 but will be aiming for a full-time starting role this year.
Stisser's fellow junior, Garrett Maloney, started 12 games on the left side last year and can be effective in the Lions' wide attack. He will be needed to provide service to the goal-scorers up front and add to his two assists from a year ago.
Again, many newcomers figure to be in the mix for playing time as the Lions search for the right combinations. Redshirt freshman Josh Carroll saw considerable playing time in the spring and is hoping to parlay that into a successful fall campaign. Junior Greg Ricks arrives at LMU from Irvine Valley College, where he earned All-Orange Empire Conference honors. At 6-0, he can give the Lions the strength to win midfield battles.
Freshmen Vincent Ocampo (San Diego, CA), Gio Lopez (Gardena, CA), Roland Anderson (Garden Grove, CA), and Go Eto (Palos Verdes, CA) each offer something different entering their first seasons at LMU. Ocampo is a creative playmaker with US Youth National Team experience and was an NSCAA High School All-American while Lopez has the scoring and passing touch, as evidenced by him averaging 23 goals and 25 assists over his final two seasons at Junipero Serra High School. Anderson was the Offensive MVP all four of his seasons at Mater Dei High School and gives LMU incredible pace on the outside right with his ability to take defenders one-on-one. Not to be overlooked, Eto is also a versatile player. He can feature at the outside midfield or sweeper positions and is more than capable of stepping in to contribute immediately at the collegiate level.
With all this talk of pushing forward and scoring goals, the importance of LMU's defense cannot be overlooked. The Lions will have to be even more solid at the back than in years past as they surge forward looking for more goals. Last year, LMU did not allow more than two goals in any contest, enabling them to be within striking distance as the game wound down. If the defense can put in similar performances in 2007, then the higher-octane LMU offense should be primed to come through with more goals and take the pressure off the back line.
Krumpe's defense is the most experienced of any of his positions, featuring four players who started at least one game in 2006. Senior Adam Sloustcher made an immediate impact last season after joining the Lions from the University of North Carolina. Sloustcher started 17 games in defense or as a defensive midfielder and showed the leadership to be named a team captain this year. With Sloustcher barking orders at the back, the Lions will no doubt stay organized even as the offense pushes forward.
A two-time WCC honorable mention recipient, Delaney anchors the defense. His strength and pace enables him to cover considerable ground and has been a bonus as he goes forward, having scored two goals in each of his two seasons.
Playing alongside Delaney are sophomores Blayze Hanson and Wilkie Johnson. Hanson is a physical, athletic defender who can play either of the wing back positions or shore up the middle. Standing 6-3, Johnson can be the aerial power LMU needs for defensive set pieces while also giving them another target on the offensive end. The presence of either Hanson or Johnson in the middle, combined with speedy outside backs, allows Krumpe the option of switching to a three defender formation.
Also bringing experience to the defense are juniors Stephen Carlson and Alex Proano. After earning WCC honorable mention honors in 2005, Carlson had a promising 2006 season cut short after two games due to injury but has bounced back to enter 2007 healthy. As a sophomore, Proano's work ethic was rewarded with increased playing time and a starting assignment in three games. Now an upper classman, Proano has his sights set on a permanent starting job.
Junior Brock Smith transferred from Santiago Canyon College having earned All-Orange Empire League honors last year. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Kristof has the versatility to play either defense or midfield, giving Krumpe added options off the bench.
Not one to rest on what he already has, Krumpe brought in more size in Andrew Park (Coto de Caza, CA). Park stands 6-1 but is athletic and versatile enough that he was the CIF Division I Offensive Player of the Year out of Santa Margarita Catholic High School. Whether scoring goals or stopping them, Park is the type of player who will stand out anywhere he is on the pitch.
The competition for the starting goalkeeper job is perhaps the most intense on the team. Gone is senior Robert Flores, who graduated with 53 career starts under his belt. With four equally talented players seeking to step in between the posts, goals, even in practice, will be hard to come by.
Junior Miguel Benitez is the most experienced of the four but has only four career starts to his name. His 1.18 goals-against-average in 380 career minutes is impressive and Benitez was undefeated in the fall last year. After stepping into the starting job during the spring, Benitez certainly feels as though it is his job to lose.
Joining in the competition is sophomore Patrick Sampson. Although he did not see any playing time last year, Sampson got into the action during the spring and is set to pounce should any of the other three slip.
Freshman Patrick Lane turned in a redshirt season in 2006 but sees his opportunity to stake claim to the starting job this year. True freshman Jack McCormack (Manhattan Beach, CA) would like to prove himself worthy of the gloves, as well. McCormack was a member of the Arsenal FC Club team that last year was widely regarded as the top U-18 team in the United States. He was the adidas Golden Gloves winner as the best goalkeeper at the 2006 USYS National Championships, where he led Arsenal to their third consecutive National title.
With any of these four from which to choose, the Lions should be well-stocked in the net for years to come.
Krumpe did his team no favors with the schedule, as the Lions will be tested at every turn. The coach has his team playing in three early season tournaments to get them in the mindset for the only tournament that matters: the one at the end of the year.
"I like to challenge my guys to see where we are," Krumpe said of the early tournaments. "All six teams we face in those tournaments will be tough games and the quick turnaround between contests will test our fitness level." As a whole, the schedule features four teams ranked in the NSCAA preseason poll, with a fifth sitting just outside, and six teams that made the NCAA tournament, both of which are goals Krumpe has set for his 2007 Lions.
For the first time since 2002, LMU kicks off its schedule at home, welcoming Cal Poly to Sullivan Field on September 1. Poly is a team that has shown steady improvement in the Big West Conference and would love to spoil the Lions' home debut. Then it's on the road for back-to-back tournaments at New Mexico and Saint Louis. The New Mexico tournament opens with the Lions against the 15th-ranked Lobos on September 7. Certainly, the altitude and the host school playing on its own turf will serve as a benchmark for the Lions as they face hostile conditions on the road. Two days later, LMU squares off against Central Florida in a 10 a.m. game that will test LMU's fitness and depth.
The following week might seem like déjà vu as LMU travels to Missouri for its second tournament in as many weeks. Yet again, the Lions face a ranked team in their stadium in the opener, taking on #22 Saint Louis on September 13. It doesn't get any easier with, yes, another 10 a.m. game two days later, this time against Creighton, which starts the season ranked #26 by the NSCAA.
With all this tough competition and traveling, one would forgive Krumpe for throwing in an easy home game or two. That's not the case, however, when LMU flies back to California for the LMU/UCSB Tournament September 21-23. Friday's matches will be held at both LMU and UCSB, with the Lions featured at home versus #24 Harvard. The two teams faced off last year in Harvard's tournament, with the Crimson nipping the Lions, 1-0. LMU looks to return the favor this year at a raucous Sullivan Field. The tournament concludes Sunday with a doubleheader of UCSB/Harvard, followed by LMU against another Ivy League foe, Columbia. Both sides will be gunning for a victory in a battle of the Lions and Krumpe considers these matches to be good benchmarks for how LMU compares to the rest of the country.
With September drawing to a close, LMU can finally catch its breath with a 12-day break before the start of West Coast Conference play. Save for the Alumni Game on September 29, the Lions will use this time to get some rest and regroup before heading full-force into the conference schedule, which arrives with a bang on October 5 with a visit from defending champions Santa Clara. LMU upset the Broncos in Santa Clara last year but was denied the season sweep with a home loss later in the year. Both teams will want a winning start to the conference slate so expect a fierce game at Sullivan.
The annual trip to Gonzaga and Portland follows as the Lions get to experience the weather of the Pacific Northwest in mid-October. LMU swept Gonzaga last year and will want to make it three straight before heading to Portland, who took both games against the Lions in 2006.
The Lions close out October with three out of four games at home and Krumpe pinpoints the home WCC games as crucial to the team's conference success. "If you take care of business at home, that is all the more important since there are no easy road trips in the WCC," he said. The stretch opens against San Francisco, who has won five in a row over the Lions and has historically proven to be a tough opponent. Saint Mary's then pays a visit before LMU faces a home-and-home with San Diego, starting at the Toreros on October 25. Traditionally, the Lions have fared well against USD but will need to be on their game as the first half of conference play ends and the second half begins.
As if the Lions had not already earned enough frequent-flyer miles to this point, a rare non-conference trip to Oregon State is slated for November 1 before LMU heads to Santa Clara on the fourth. Facing a Pac-10 school will again serve as a barometer with where the Lions are against the rest of the nation heading into the season's final three weeks.
After returning from Santa Clara, LMU closes out its home schedule against Gonzaga and Portland. Then it's off to the Bay Area for the regular season-ending road trip at San Francisco and Saint Mary's. Should everything go as planned, that will not be the last anyone hears of the Lions as they seek to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004.
How far the Lions go in 2007 will depend on how quickly the newcomers can not only adapt to college soccer, but also contribute to the team's success. "These young men make up a very talented class. They have the potential to really make an indelible mark here at LMU in terms of their character and their play," Krumpe concluded. "They will blend in very well with the style of play and the core group of players we already have in place. Our goal in 2007 is to win the WCC Championship and return to the NCAA Tournament and this class will be instrumental in achieving this goal."
If Krumpe's words ring prophetic, the 2007 season could be the start of something special at LMU.
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