PREVIEW: Changes on the ‘Horizon’ for men’s soccer
It’s a new beginning for the Belmont men’s soccer program as the team prepares for the upcoming 2014 season.
Not only is it the first season under head coach Bryan Green, but Belmont also joins the Horizon League after spending two seasons as an independent.
With a new coaching staff, an adjustment period for the players can be expected as the team shifts gears both tactically and mentally.
“The preseason has been a little bit slower than I had hoped. We did a lot of new stuff in the spring and I was hoping more of it would be retained,” said Green, who comes to Belmont after four years at Drexel University. “So in some senses we’re starting over, but in other senses they have at least picked it up when we reintroduced it.”
While the adjustments have taken some time, the players appear optimistic about the team’s direction. Sophomore goalkeeper Grayson Rector praised the new mentality the team has adopted under Green.
“A lot of guys are really buying into the system and putting in a lot more work than we ever have before,” said Rector. “We’re all just really loving what we’re doing.”
Senior midfielder Luca Schioppa agreed.
“He’s introducing new concepts that are helping out the team a lot. Everyone is diving into it and helping the whole team,” he said.
Although all-time assists leader Nico Olsak and former captain Charlie Dankert graduated last season, Belmont nonetheless returns with 21 letterwinners, including offensive leaders Raphael Colmanette and AJ Arnold. Green hopes the experienced players will bring more hunger and desire for success.
“There are 21 letterwinners but they haven’t really tasted success and only a few have actually played a conference game,” Green said. “Hopefully they have the hunger and desire to have a good year and then make a mark in conference.”
While the Bruins have been known in the past for its tactical midfield play, Green introduced a greater attacking style where more numbers will be pressed forward.
“We encourage guys to take risks in the attacking third and play simple in the middle and defensive thirds. So we’ll keep trying to pass and have guys running forward,” he said. “We want all our players forward. We’ll have more guys joining the attack.”
Additional tactical changes are expected to be made defensively as well. Redshirt senior Tyler Vieth will anchor the backline for the Bruins alongside sophomore Nat Hubert and junior Anthony Torres. Vieth said he looks forward to the team being more defensively organized.
“Coach Green has a way that he wants us to play defense, so we start with that and it leads into our attack,” he said.
During the non-conference schedule, Belmont faces a slew of quality opponents including SEC powerhouse South Carolina and defending Missouri Valley champion Bradley. Green hopes the challenges will prepare the team for conference games.
“We have some great opportunities to go and play at some great places against some very good teams that have had history of success,” he said. ” I think those challenges will just get us ready for conference because conferences game are tough no matter who you are and who you’re playing.”
Belmont competes in its first official game as a member in the Horizon League at home against Valparaiso on Sept. 26. With the Bruins finally having a conference to call home, the team hopes to play for a postseason berth in October.
“It definitely gives us something tangible to play for. We aren’t just playing for our own pride in a sense; we have an end goal,” said Rector. “The conference tournament will hopefully get us into the NCAA tournament.”
Although the team has hopes for the postseason, Green said the one goal is to embrace the process and improve every day without letting previous results dictate the team.
“In October and November, we’ll see where we’re at and take the next step to carry out results,” he said. “We’re at a point where everything is so new. We really need to focus on getting better and the results will take care of itself.”
Belmont opens the regular season on the road against South Carolina on Friday before traveling to face Kentucky in its brand-new stadium on Sunday. The game on Friday against the Gamecocks is set for 7 p.m.