August 11, 2012 – The most telling weeks for any team: the preseason. Highlighting North Carolina, Charlotte, and USF.
For approximately three weeks, every program in the country will start out with a clean slate, a perfect 0-0 record. No matter how big or small, every team has one thing in common twenty four hours in a day to create some sort of edge, making preseason nothing short of grueling.
Through my own experiences during my first two years at Providence College, preseason has been a mixture of excitement and anxiety, as we players are the only ones that know if we put enough work in over the summer to be physically and mentally prepared for another season. With the preseason being less than three weeks, each and every player must come in fit and ready for the regular season. For programs with national championship aspirations, every player on the roster, from captain to redshirt freshmen, must be fit in order to turn their aspirations into reality.
We will take a quick look at the national champions, the national runner up, and a select program hoping to make serious noise in 2012.
For the national champions, The University of North Carolina, anything short of a repeat will be a disappointment. This season particularly, the Tar Heels will be forced to suffer the loss of underclassmen who have joined the professional ranks, a problem any college soccer team wouldn’t mind having. The Tar Heels will open their season on August 25th at home against Gardner-Webb without last year’s stars Billy Schuler (16g, 5a), Ben Speas (7g, 10a), Enzo Martinez (9g, 11a) and Kirk Urso (3g, 7a)
Still, it is very hard to expect the Tar Heels to have any kind of drop off in production because of their recruiting class, rated number three in the country by College Soccer News. Head coach Carlos Somoano notes that the Heels are facing the same situation in 2012 as they did in 2011, "We lost a lot of players to graduation or turning pro from the 2010 team, so the 2011 team dynamics were different with the balance of returning and incoming players and how we wanted to play."
Obliviously, the 2011 season went according to plan, so expect the additions of US U-20 midfielder Danny Garcia, and transfer Andy Craven from the College of Charleston who was the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, among others, to fill the voids of some amazing collegiate players. I predict Andy Craven will have no trouble adjusting to the ACC, and that he will record some big numbers in 2012.
The preseason for the defending national champs will consist of training in the morning and evening as well as having meals together. Preseason is clearly a time to sharpen tools on the field, but also a time to build team chemistry off it as well. UNC will use its two preseason matches against Coastal Carolina and Winthrop not only as opportunities to evaluate the newcomers, but also as a chance to let the likes of Garcia and Craven mold as they look to form a new dynamic duo in college soccer.
It seems that the preseason for a defending national champion is no different than that of the other 202 division one teams in the country, as players look to put in a tremendous amount of effort necessary to maximize and even exceed potential.
The national runner up, UNC Charlotte, only loses three starters from last year's cup final. Most notably, Charlotte loses defender Charles Rodriguez to the pro ranks after graduating last spring. But the biggest loss for Charlotte comes at the head coach position with Jeremy Gunn leaving for the PAC 12 and the Stanford Cardinal.
Jeremy Gunn steadily built Charlotte's program for five years, leading them to their first A-10 title in his first year, and the national championship game in his last. First year head coach Kevin Langan will definitely have his hands full, but the twenty-ninth ranked recruiting class by College Soccer News should be able to fill the void of the three starters lost from last year's team. Transfers Dominic Bonilla and David Meyer from Akron should help solidify Charlotte's defense. The chemistry of those two, along with the clutch goal scoring ability of Giuseppe Gentile (10g, 2a), will determine how far Charlotte can go in the 2012 season.
Yet all of these uncertainties lead to an even larger emphasis on Charlotte's preseason. Langan expects to have most answers resolved within the team with very few question marks, and expects the guys coming off of an injury plagued 2011 season to have an impact, as well.
Langan speaks about his team, stating, "I'm excited for this class but most excited for the returning players, with three guys coming back from injury ready to step up. We strongly believe we recruited a strong class, and we already have answers in the squad."
Langan went on to speak about the importance that the summer months have on the squad, emphasizing that players, “can’t come in and try and get fit in five days, we expect our guys to be used to training twice a day from the summer fitness packet. The rest of the world gets six to eight weeks, so we just want to use our two weeks to sharpen up." Clearly, it is important to come in fit and ready to play so that the focus becomes more on shaping the team than solely on fitness.
This explains why Charlotte's preseason consists of one yo-yo test and the remaining of the time spent on the pitch building chemistry. After speaking with the first year head coach, he made sure to point out that there was no magic recipe for the team's success in 2011 that is, other than being equipped for absolutely anything. Both this season and last, such readiness begins with being set for a grueling preseason. The hard work put in during that time period is what translates into the team's preparedness later on, such as when Charlotte beat UCONN and Creighton in penalties to reach the NCAA tournament final.
For 2011 Elite 8 participant University of South Florida, it is only a matter of time until they reach the top of the college soccer mountain, and I believe that this season, South Florida will be a Final Four participant. Having played against them myself, they play very smooth soccer, which leads to their unquestionable success. I caught up with fifth year midfielder and captain Sebastian Thuriere to discuss the upcoming preseason.
Sebastian immediately pointed out how demanding every preseason is, mentioning that "preseason is tough for everyone; it's the long days with intense training schedules that make college preseason pretty taxing.” Thuriere added, “If a team can bond and click early during preseason it can be a great recipe for a successful year."
Like Charlotte and UNC, South Florida understands the importance of coming together as a team during preseason. Head coach George Kiefer has designed a team to win right now, not three or four years down the road. This can be seen in his most recent recruiting class, consisting of five transfers, all entering with collegiate playing experience. Anytime there is such a large number of players coming in who expect to play immediately the team chemistry aspect becomes that much more important. It is so critical, in fact that the team stays in a hotel during the first week of preseason to focus and prepare for the condensed preseason ahead.
There is nothing left for South Florida to do except win a national championship, as Sebastian states, "I have been fortunate enough to be part of USF teams that have won every college competition except a national championship. We have been Big East champions as well as League Champions and have arrived at the Elite 8 level. I feel our time is coming and every year we get a bit closer, so my biggest personal expectation would be to help my team reach a final four and win a national championship." With such high expectations and high hopes, we can predict a big year out of Sebastian and South Florida.
Here in Providence, we too are underway with our two-a-days and will be continuing such training up until our preseason matches. After reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, we are hoping for a big year in 2012. Expect preseason All-Big East team member Marc Cintron (3g, 5a), seven other returning starters, and a quietly strong recruiting class to help take our program to new heights. Who knows, with a solid preseason we may well be the Charlotte of 2012.
Anthony Baumann is a member of the Providence Soccer Team and a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.