SEASON PREVIEW: Time to Win
LMU men's soccer poised to challenge for first WCC title
Aug. 31, 2010
If the goal of the LMU men's soccer program in 2008 was to turn losses into ties and the goal in 2009 was to turn ties into wins, then there can only be one objective in 2010.
"We want to win the West Coast Conference," Head Coach Paul Krumpe said. "In previous years, we might have said that we wanted to win the WCC but would have been satisfied with playing in the NCAA Tournament. This year, we are aiming to win as much as possible and feel that we have the best chance in years to take the conference."
Last year, the Lions fulfilled their goal of making it to the NCAA Tournament by winning 10 games. Yet their overtime loss at home in the first round of the postseason left a sour taste in their mouths and has fueled the fire to surpass last year's accomplishments.
"The players have been very focused since the end of last season," Krumpe said. "They worked hard in the spring and kept that up over the summer to the point where they have come into the preseason training camp more fit and determined than ever before."
With 19 letterwinners, nine starters, and eight all-conference players returning from last season's squad, the Lions are well-positioned to make a run at the program's first conference title. The WCC coaches have agreed, tabbing LMU as the preseason favorite in the annual coaches' poll. To bring home the title, LMU will have to put together a complete season from start to finish, something that Krumpe acknowledges has been a difficult task in years past.
"I think we are notorious for knocking off a couple ranked teams during the non-conference schedule and for generally finishing strong," Krumpe said. "As we saw last year, ten wins can get us into the tournament but if we're serious about winning the conference, we need to make sure to get those results early in conference play. But I think this team knows that and is ready for action."
Indeed, if the Lions are to make a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and challenge for the WCC crown, they will do so on the strength of a seasoned veteran lineup that has seen its share of triumphs and tribulations throughout the past seasons.
Leading the charge are a pair of senior captains in the midfield, Rafael Baca and Vincent Ocampo, who endured a three-win season their rookie years, only to help lift the Lions to last year's NCAA Tournament and end the program's five-year postseason drought. Their leadership and accomplishments have placed both on the Preseason All-WCC Team.
Baca is the biggest name on the team, having been a Hermann Trophy candidate last season and earning Goal.com First Team All-American and NSCAA Second Team All-West Region honors. Baca has led the Lions in scoring in each of his three seasons at LMU and is sixth on the school's all-time scoring charts. A 2010 preseason All-American as selected by College Soccer News, Baca will once again be the Lions' go-to player. Although his supporting cast keeps getting better, which will take pressure off of him to make the big plays, Baca continues to be a game-changer who can turn a result at any time.
"Rafa is our engine but our success does not rest solely upon his shoulders," Krumpe said. "The pieces are in place around him and he is good enough to recognize when to be a scorer and when to be a play-maker."
"Vinny has really engaged himself in his role as a focused defensive midfielder," Krumpe said. "He contributes to our success with both his offensive and defensive play and as a team leader."
Just as crucial to LMU's success in 2010 will be the play of the 11 juniors on the roster. Five of those juniors - Tyler Krumpe, Roger Downes, Artur Jozkowicz, Phil Da Silva, and Logan McDaniel - have earned All-WCC honors at some point in their careers and are expected to not only start for the Lions but also to form much of the nucleus of the team. Together, the quintet has combined for 14 goals and 23 assists in their two seasons at LMU; yet, they offer much more than just offensive support for Baca.
Da Silva was second on the team with nine points last year thanks to three goals and three assists, earning Honorable Mention All-WCC accolades. He scored game-winning goals at #6 UC Santa Barbara and in the conference-opening win against San Francisco but Krumpe sees Da Silva as playing a bigger role for the team.
"Phil is our most accomplished striker and puts a lot of pressure on defenses with his speed and willingness to defend from the front," Krumpe said. "Being able to win the ball in the attacking third is a dimension that Phil possesses and is not often seen in strikers."
Joining Da Silva up front could be Tyler Krumpe, another Honorable Mention selection in 2009 who played forward in high school but has been LMU's right back since his freshman campaign. The coaches experimented with him as a striker at times last season and were rewarded with his game-winner at San Diego. His speed and finishing ability make him an ideal partner for Da Silva or any other striker the Lions use, while it is reassuring that he can also slot into the backline if needed.
"Logan is our most creative left-footed player and gives us great leadership and experience on the left," Krumpe said.
Opposite McDaniel is Jozkowicz, who contributed a goal and four assists last year. Jozkowicz was a Freshman All-WCC selection in 2008 and Krumpe likes how his speed works well with the rest of the midfield.
"Artur complements our midfield so well in his ability to be a slasher and win knock-downs," Krumpe said.
After battling injury in 2009 that saw him miss nine games, Downes has returned to full-strength and ready to lead the Lion defense. The 2008 WCC Freshman of the Year, Downes will solidify the backline while offering a target on offensive set pieces.
"It is good to have Roger back and healthy," Krumpe said. "He is a very good ball-winner and reads the game extremely well."
Of the remaining juniors, Krumpe feels all will contribute from a leadership standpoint while having the capability of starting. The concern for the coach is figuring out where to play them as several have the versatility to feature at a number of positions. Kyle Johanson started 14 games last year and can play center mid or center back while Alex Greenman is also a versatile player who can slot in anywhere from left or center back to left mid. Jonas Reiter made the transition from being a striker as a freshman at Saint Louis University to playing outside back for the Lions last season. His ability in the air could even see him move inside to pair up with Downes as a center back. Fernando Barba is an out-and-out midfielder but links up with the others well and can play as an attacking or defensive mid. He provides a good long-range shot and is an excellent passer.
One junior who knows where he will be playing is goalkeeper Jack McCormack. A redshirt junior, McCormack is the most experienced of the Lions' three keepers and also the quickest. Krumpe believes that his maturity will be an asset should the Lions field a young defensive front.
The final junior will be sorely missed by the Lions as defender Mitch Boland will miss the season due to an injury sustained in the offseason. Boland was a member of the WCC All-Freshman Team in 2008 and an Honorable Mention selection last year at Gonzaga University before transferring to LMU in the spring. His imposing presence as a center back will be a hole that the Lions will need to fill but Boland will contribute to the team from the sideline with his positive attitude and leadership.
Eight sophomores will look to show a leap in their performance after getting a year of collegiate play under their belts. Forward Sean Sears came on strong at the end of last year to earn a place on the WCC All-Freshman team and is joined up front by John Ikard, a hulking center forward who also has the pace to harass defenders. With both standing well over six-feet, the duo will seek to make an impact in LMU's aerial attack.
Entering the fold for the first time will be striker David Ponce, a transfer from UC Santa Barbara. Ponce is a traditional center forward who has impressed Krumpe with his ability to hold the ball and lay it off in the attack, two skills that will serve the Lions well with the overlapping pace they possess on the outside.
In the middle of the park, James Rochlitz gives the Lions a similar player as Ocampo in the sense that he is a solid ball-winner and tenacious worker. He, along with Sears, was selected to the All-WCC Freshman Team last season.
A trio of defenders will make an impact with starting spots up for grabs. John LaCouture is a left back who appeared in 10 games last year and serves a good ball from the back. On the other side, Adam Jackson showed promise as a right back in the spring and had a good summer with the Southern California Seahorses of the PDL. In the middle, David Kucera is a tall center back who can also feature out wide. Krumpe says that Kucera has become more comfortable on the ball and has improved his passing from last season.
"Max is a huge, imposing figure to have in our goal," Krumpe said. "Even so, he has very good reflexes for a guy his size and should compete for the starting position."
As if Young and McCormack were not enough, the Lions have a third goalkeeper vying for the starting job. Billy Thompson gained valuable training experience by redshirting the 2009 campaign and gives the Lions three first-class keepers.
"Billy is a hybrid between Jack and Max in that he has the same size and wingspan as Max but has the quick and nimble feet of Jack," Krumpe said. "I would love to see one of them separate from the pack to claim the starting role but it is good for the team that we have three very good goalkeepers who will be battling all season long for playing time."
To ensure that the Lions can continue building for the future, Krumpe and his coaching staff has brought in eight talented freshmen. Forwards Christian Alvarado (Anaheim, Calif.) and Trent Clifton (Calabasas, Calif.) played with Thompson for the L.A. Galaxy Youth Academy while in high school and should fit in well to the Lion attack. Alvarado is a target forward with good speed while Clifton runs off the ball well and is an excellent finisher. Krumpe likens Clifton to former Lion Kevin Novak in that he always ends up in the right place at the right time. Connor Hunsicker (Saint Louis, Mo.) is described by Krumpe as a "jack of all trades" who can play forward, attacking or defensive mid, or on the outside. With a good passing touch and confidence on the ball, Hunsicker could prove to be like Johanson in providing value through his versatility.
Making it a family affair, midfielder Cameron Krumpe (Torrance, Calif.) joins his older brother and his father by becoming a Lion. Krumpe is a left-footed dead-ball specialist who will provide the greatest value with his service on set pieces.
Four defenders round out the Lion recruiting class. Eric Brunter (Los Alamitos, Calif.), Aaron Garfinkel (Las Vegas, Nev.), Craig Nitti (Calabasas, Calif.), and Connor Gill (Venice, Calif.) give the Lions depth all across the back line. Brunter, Nitti, and Gill are large center backs who offer a physical presence in defense while Garfinkel is an excellent ball-winner who can also move up to play in the midfield.
With the depth of talent on his team, Krumpe looks to his staff to provide the insight and direction for leading LMU to the WCC championship.
"This might be the best coaching staff I have had in my 13 years at LMU," Krumpe said. "We have a fantastic combination of young and experienced coaches who have had success at both the collegiate and professional levels."
Now in his 11th season at LMU, Associate Head Coach Mathes Mennell has been the mainstay of the program and is traditionally the goalkeeping coach, although Krumpe relies on him to "fill in the cracks" with the field players. Michael Erush is a former All-WCC defender with the Lions and has honed his coaching skills as a head coach in the PDL over the past two summers. As someone who has been a part of LMU soccer for four seasons as a player and three as a coach, Erush has seen all sides of the players' experience. Volunteer Assistant Coach Matt Tutton enters his second season with the Lions after being the top assistant at Saint Louis University the previous two years. Tutton has been to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons and thereby can show the Lions what it takes to maintain a top level of play.
The Lions have also added a pair of young coaches who can provide valuable insight for the players. New Director of Operations Josh Tudela won a pair of national championships as a collegiate player at Indiana and played professionally for the Galaxy. Patrick Lane was LMU's starting goalkeeper in 2008 before signing a pro contract in Belgium. Back on campus to finish his degree, Lane will help Mennell take charge of the goalkeeping corps.
Krumpe acknowledges that the Lions will need all components working in concert in order to navigate what will once again be a difficult schedule. LMU opens with a pair of challenging home games against San Diego State and Cal State Northridge and then does not play another home game for six weeks as they travel for eight straight road contests over 33 days. Included in that stretch will be tough games at Kentucky and against Butler at the Kentucky Invitational, an NCAA Tournament rematch against Sacramento State, difficult road tests at San Jose State, Cal Poly, and UC Riverside that lead into WCC play.
LMU placed third in the WCC last season, the program's highest finish since 2005, but Krumpe knows that topping last year's performance will require focus each week and every game. The Lions split the season series with every team in 2009 and four teams made the NCAA Tournament, which suggests that the parity in the conference is as high as ever.
"I see any one of six teams being good enough to win the WCC this season," Krumpe said. "I think we have an advantage over last year in that we have more veterans than before but in order to accomplish our goals, we need to post a winning record each weekend. We cannot afford to drop points."
A repeat of last year's ten-win season could be enough to get LMU back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and sixth time since 2001. Yet, Krumpe and the rest of the Lions are aiming higher.
"A good non-conference season and a winning record could be enough to get us into the postseason as an at-large team," Krumpe said. "But why not aim for the automatic bid that goes with a WCC championship?"
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