Men’s soccer team opens on the road

Sheehan Hannan, Director of Print

This Friday and Saturday, the Spartans men’s soccer team will open their season with a pair of road games played against Sawenee University and Washington and Lee University. The Denison Invitational, named after host school Denison University, marks the debut of 16 players, along with 12 returning faces.

Despite the strain of playing back-to-back games on the road, Head Coach Brandon Bianco says his team is up for the challenge, both physically and mentally. “There’s obviously the physical challenge of trying to play two ninety-minute games within really less than 24 hours,” said Bianco. “And then the challenge of making sure that our group is prepared for two different opponents in less than 24 hours.”

The Spartan men’s soccer team seeks to build on their 3-14-1 record last year. They went 0-7 in conference play. In the 2011 season, the team went 15-5 overall with a 5-2 record in conference play and advanced to the NCAA tournament. This year, the team will try to rectify the disparity between those two seasons.

Said Bianco, “It’s funny because two years ago we won the league, and last year we had a little bit of trouble, but we’re going to be a team that’s going to be a force in the conference this year. “

Opening the season against national teams early in their season, like those at the Denison Invitational in Granville, Ohio, will give the squad a chance to get a feel for the league and themselves. “Everything ramps up and lead into the conference portion, which is the most important part, but hopefully the games before that time prepare us for our conference,” said Bianco.

From his perspective, Bianco says his team’s strategy is based on dominating during key moments of the game. “As we talk as a program, we want to be good in all four moments of the game, which are the attack, defending and the transitions into attacking and defending. I think if we focus on those four moments from now until our first conference game, by the time those games come around, we’ll be pretty good.”

Even more important, however, is the development of his program’s culture.

“Our development is on the field, but I’m more concerned with our development as a program, and hopefully developing an identity and a culture in the program. And so when you watch us play, you leave knowing that these guys want to keep the ball and they want to play fast and they want to score back, and all that good stuff,” said Bianco. “ But more than that, I hope that we’re doing it the right way and that the guys hold themselves and each other accountable.”

The Spartans’ roster consists of a large number of young players, which Bianco sees as an advantage. “We’re young, but I think we’re hungry. So what we want to do as a program is just continue to develop and get better,” he said.

In particular, Junior Captain Jay Darby’s leadership role is important, said Bianco. Darby, a goalkeeper, played in five matches with three starts in the goal last year, was named a UAA All-Academic and posted a 1-2 record with 10 saves in 237:38 minutes of action. He was also a part of the 2011 NCAA tournament in 2011 as a freshman.

Also in leadership positions on the defensive line are juniors Taylor Fletcher and Bairdy Hansen. “Both have played a lot of soccer since they’ve been on campus and both are very good players and both are just steady, solid leaders,” said Bianco.

In the midfield, the Spartan talent is of a younger variety, featuring sophomores Dean Balabanov and Chris Cvecko. “Both are just very good soccer players, read the game well and they control the game from there,” said Bianco.

On the forward line, Bianco expects one of the team’s only two seniors, Marco Patrie, to take an active leadership role. A veteran of the 2011 Spartan team, Patrie is returning to campus after a year spent elsewhere. “He’s a guy that has been great on the field and in the locker room with the guys and has been a great leader there,” said Bianco.

The Spartans will play their first home game against Franklin University on Sept. 21. Conference play begins with a game against Brandies on Oct. 5.