Aug. 10, 2007
USF Adds Youth to Experienced Squad
Three years ago, the University of San Francisco surprised everyone in NCAA soccer by winning the always tough West Coast Conference and once again emerging as a national soccer power.
The Dons proved it was no fluke when they captured the league title in 2005 and last season again jumped into the top-10 for the first time in more than a decade en route to their third straight NCAA berth.
As the 2007 season approaches, USF head coach Erik Visser knows the team is up to another challenge.
"The proof of success in almost anything is to maintain it," Visser said. "This year we need to start passing the torch to a new group of players, with our upperclassmen showing the way. We have had the kind of recruiting season that will allow it to happen.
"We are blessed with a great group of seniors, starting with Rob Valentino, whom I consider to be the best player in the nation. Rob combines a high level of talent with determination and versatility. I think that he could be an All-American playing defense, midfield or up front. It is rare to have a player with that type of talent."
The Dons will be challenged with another difficult schedule, with pre-conference games against powers UCLA, California, New Mexico, Vermont, Alabama A&M, San Jose State and Stanford. This will prepare them for an always competitive West Coast Conference slate, where they will face additional ranked teams featuring All-American players.
"There are no gimmies on this schedule, but it should prepare us for the type of competition that we will face in postseason play," added Visser. "It will also be a treat for our fans as we play twelve great home matches."
After spending much of 2006 as an understudy for second team all-WCC goalkeeper Geremy Uhl last season, it is time for junior Eric Conner to earn the starting goalkeeper slot. Conner transferred to USF from UCLA last season and watched Uhl play 19 of the 20 contests, playing just once himself. "Eric is an excellent `keeper," said Visser, "and now he will have a chance to prove himself."
He will be challenged by 6-5 Cal Poly senior transfer Geremy Coupe, and standout freshman Bryce Boyd. Coupe started two games for the Mustangs last season. Michael Conrad from Arlington, Virginia will be groomed for the future, while redshirt Jeff Leles will provide additional depth.
USF's defense, a strongpoint of the team in recent years, should be stronger than ever despite losing star Kevin Long and others. Last season USF led the WCC in goals against average for the second straight time.
"The combination of Valentino and fellow senior Chris Rodd, a first team all-WCC selection, in the middle is as good a pairing as you will find in collegiate soccer," says Visser proudly.
Kyle Schlumpf also returns for his junior year after gaining significant experience last season.
Coach Visser recruited four players who have the ability to see action right away.
Helping to solidify the defense is University of Maryland transfer Justin Kendro, who has the ability to start at either central or outside back.
Three freshman that are expected to challenge for starting berths are Justin Warren from Texas, Victor Cortez from local Miramonte High School and Allen Hardison, a 6-4 defender from Seaside High School in Santa Cruz.
Young defenders who are projected to challenge for playing time are redshirt Adam Jacobson, and freshmen Derrick Mazariego and Bill Van Vleet.
USF's midfield is the unit with the most playing experience on the team.
The Dons return three seniors including All-American candidate Brandon McDonald, returning leading scorer Ardalan Attar, and the versatile Daniel DeGeer. The Dons also have a future star in sophomore Jesse Henderson.
Brandon is an intimidating force in the midfield, both attacking and defending. He possesses a shot capable of scoring from anywhere on the pitch. Attar, a junior college All-American scored five goals, including two game-winners in his first season in Green and Gold. DeGeer has improved each year at USF and before his injury last season was one of USF's hottest players.
Returning up front are senior Jordan Keyes and sophomore Conor Chinn, who have shown their abilities at USF. Keyes, who is a speedy attacker is coming off a great spring season, while Chinn showed his stuff as a newcomer last year when he scored four goals and was named to the All-West Coast Conference freshman team.
"We are very pleased with the recruiting class that we have brought in this season to boost the frontline," said Visser.
The Dons hope to fill the void left by departed senior Aaron Chandler with two talented freshmen in Bryan Burke and Jonathan McMullen. Burke is a hard-working player with a great instinct for scoring while McMullen's speed will stretch the defense.
Three young, talented prospects, Jeff Penna from Danville, Andres Cabrera and Rafai Eddy may also see action.