TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2011
Men’s Soccer 2011 Season Outlook
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After going undefeated in two exhibition games, the JU men’s soccer team will kick off the regular season on Friday when it hosts UCF at the Ashley Sports Complex at 7 p.m.

The Dolphins will be looking to build off a 9-9-2 campaign that culminated with an appearance in the Atlantic Sun Conference semifinals. JU returns 18 letter-winners and nine starters from that squad, giving head coach Mike Johnson a veteran unit as the Dolphins will try and capture its first A-Sun title since 2008.

Johnson enters his ninth season with a recent string of success. The Dolphins have posted non-losing seasons in three of the past four years. With a 31-29-6 record against A-Sun opponents, Johnson already has the most conference wins by a head coach in program history. The former JU player has guided the program to an A-Sun regular season title in 2007 and a spot in the NCAA Tournament the following season. He will now try and lead the Dolphins back to the national tournament for the second time.

“We’re really excited,” Johnson said. “We felt like we had a good team last year that was capable of winning the tournament. The league’s very competitive, but we return a lot of players who know have an extra year of experience.”

Five freshmen also will look to bring a youth infusion to the lineup and fortify the team’s bench, allowing the plethora of returning players a chance to stay fresh throughout the year.

“With the recruiting class we brought in, we felt we hit every need area,” Johnson said. “That will allow us to have quality depth that will put us in a good position.”

Here’s a breakdown of the 2011 team:

FORWARD

JU returns six of its top-10 scorers from the previous season. But the team loses leading scorer Nedim Hrustic and will need to find a way to replace the 10 goals he tallied. Johnson will wait to see who emerges as the go-to scorer, though they are a few candidates who can become dependable strikers. Senior Tyler Williams scored six goals and added two assists in 17 games, earning five starts. Freshman Florian Scheck played in the German Soccer Federation and will also vie for extended playing time in his first year.

Depending on matchups, the Dolphins can also give senior Darko Karamatic a chance to take on a more aggressive offensive role after he scored six goals and six assists on a team-high 52 shots in 2010.

“This is a big question mark,” Johnson said. “We’ve challenged our group to address this position by committee. Our returning players are going to have to be more productive. Out of a group of about eight players, we really need someone to step up and become that go-to guy. If we can find that guy early, it’ll make us a very good team.”

MIDFIELD

The Dolphins will look for the midfielders to provide stability for the rest of the group. Team co-captains Predrag Ivanovic and Davide Faga will look to lead the experience midfielders. The senior duo combined for 10 points last year with Faga starting all 20 games and Ivanovic starting 19. They were also key contributors in the Dolphins posting a plus-four goal differential and their dependability prompted Johnson to call them the “glue” for the unit.

Fellow seniors Daniele Campailla, Stefan Durr and Christopher Helms give JU game-tested players to round out the deep midfield section. Sophomores Matt Behrhorst and Nick Rodriguez also will look to gain the coaching staff’s trust. Behrhorst showed flashes with a goal against Big East-member USF in the exhibition opener.

Some new faces will also vie for playing time. Freshmen Jack McIver, Justin Szymkowiak and Henrik Synnes will look to prove they can make the transition to Division I.

Trey Collins, Halvor Anderson, Nick Rodriguez, Brett Nasta and Isaac Kinman also can work their way into the mix, giving the Dolphins multiple options and looks as it seeks the most favorable matchups.

“Our strength is the quality of our midfielders,” Johnson said. “With our formations, it requires us to create and score goals from the group.”

DEFENSE

Senior Tobias Hottner is back to anchor a defensive unit that held JU opponents to 33 goals in 20 games last season. For his efforts, Hottner made the A-Sun preseason all-conference team. Joining Hottner in the backfield will be fellow senior Casey Tafuri. The Tallahassee, Fla. native started 15-of-17 games in 2010.

The two upperclassmen will also be asked to mold a couple of new defenders. Freshman Ashton Pett gained international experience playing for his native New Zealand in the U-17 World Cup. Pett will now try and translate his national-team success into a dependable role in the Dolphins as an outside back.

Sophomore Max Cainkar appeared in just three games as a reserve in his freshman year and will try and earn extended minutes in his second season. Garrett Teague, who served in the U.S. Navy before enrolling at JU, will also try and contribute as a reserve defender.

Synness could also see time as a center back. At 6-4, he is the same height as Hottner, giving the Dolphins two big defenders protecting the cage.

With his left-footed shot, McIver could also be valuable in a reserve role in giving the Dolphins a type of threat they didn’t have on the field last fall.

“We have the ingredients to have an outstanding defensive unit,” Johnson said.

GOALKEEPER

The Dolphins will like to ride the hot hand. Currently, junior Zach Greenwald is the team’s top goalkeeper. The Palm Coast, Fla. native played every second of JU’s two exhibition games, allowing just two total goals in a win over USF and a tie against Division II Eckerd.

Greenwald started nine games last season and senior Johnny Foley started 11. Both finished .500 with one shutout. Greenwald went 4-4-1 and Foley finished 5-5-1. Foley will start opening day behind Greenwald but could move back into the cage once the season starts.

Johnson is also awaiting on Gavin Carlin to arrive in Jacksonville and potentially claim the starting job. The Killygordon, Ireland native is a 6-5; 210 pound netminder who has also gained experience in international play. Carlin might be ready to take over the starting job during this year’s stretch run.

Sophomore transfer-player Hayes Sperry could also see time. The Asheville, N.C. product previously played at Chaminade University of Honolulu.

“We’re looking for Foley and Greenwald to compete right away,” Johnson said. “Gavin is another player who has World Cup qualifying experience in the U-17 and U-19 levels. We feel like he can be the goalie of the future, if not immediately.”

SCHEDULE

Facing UCF will be an early test. JU will host a Knights team that is ranked No. 19 by Soccer America after making the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

The Dolphins will continue to face a challenging slate of non-conference foes in addition to a tough A-Sun schedule. Besides UCF, the Dolphins will also face an ETSU squad that qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year.

JU will get a chance to start the season in familiar surroundings as the team will not have to leave the Sunshine State for first five total weeks. After the opener, JU will welcome UMass on Sept. 4. before heading to Miami for two games in three days against Florida Atlantic (Sept. 9) and FIU (Sept. 11). JU will then head to DeLand, Fla. to face Temple on Sept. 16 before returning to Jacksonville for a three-game homestand versus Furman (Sept. 18), George Washington (Sept. 23) and UC Riverside (Sept. 25).

“I know we’re excited about playing UCF at home and that’s going to be a good indicator to see how much we’ve grown,” Johnson said. “You look at the rest of the schedule and there isn’t an easy game. It’s a diverse schedule that’s spread out regionally and there are always battles in A-Sun play.”

--By Brian Bohl