2005 Big Ten Preview

Aug. 25, 2005


As the Penn State men's soccer program enters its 95th year of varsity competition, head coach Barry Gorman has the 2005 team poised for a serious run at another Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thirteen lettermen return, including seven starters from a team that went 10-4-8 last season against one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Nittany Lions will begin the 2005 campaign ranked No. 23 in the country, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Pre-season Poll.

"I think this team is good enough to challenge for a Big Ten Championship and to make a run in the NCAA Tournament," said Gorman, who is Penn State's all-time winningest coach with a 228-117-29 mark in his 17 years at the PSU. "I think you have to look at a team and say, `We have players with the talent and work ethic to win.' Brian Devlin, David Walters, Conrad Taylor, and Simon Omekanda are potential game winners. They have been successful at club and representative levels. I believe the pieces of the puzzle are in place for a successful year. Collectively, we can achieve great things this year."

All-America candidates David Walters and Brian Devlin are the only seniors on a squad that returns five other quality starters including Omekanda, goalkeeper Taylor, defenders Stephen Reihner, Markku Viitanen, and David Gray.

Walters and Devlin, as the only two remaining players from the 2002 Big Ten Championship team, will strive to lead their teammates to another victor's celebration.
Walters earned first-team all-Big Ten midfielder, all-Mid Atlantic Region first team player, and NSCAA Scholar all-America honors in 2004. He will serve as a team co-captain for the third consecutive year. Walters is considered by many collegiate soccer followers to be as good as any midfielder in the country at orchestrating an offense.

Devlin has played alongside Walters for the past three seasons. They complement each other well and, as a previous all-Big Ten first team selection, Devlin possesses the ability and savvy to form a tremendous senior midfield partnership with Walters.

Whereas this year's incoming class doesn't have the media hype that some of Gorman's more recent recruiting classes, don't be fooled into thinking the talent isn't there. The Nittany Lions have a class of 13 newcomers, which includes six Pennsylvanians and five international student-athletes.

"To be quite honest, quite a few of them really excite me in terms of their potential," Gorman said. "We have a number of very good athletes in this group. I think several of them are definitely going to blossom and surprise quite a few people sooner rather than later."

With seven starters returning, Gorman and his staff were looking to add depth at each position with this class. With its promise, some of these new faces will have a chance to log significant minutes immediately.

Gorman is optimistic that several players, who have the potential to be collegiate goal scorers, will challenge for starting front line positions.

Simon Omekanda is the leading goal-scoring forward returning for the Lions. Omekanda has nine career goals and is expected to be a major threat again this year. Transfer Milan Popovic, along with freshman Jason Yeisley, Mergen Orazov, and Dylan Keener, will challenge for positions.

While Devlin and Walters are the only two seniors on a young but experienced team, both are expected to galvanize a midfield of talented teammates. Junior Jeff Chambers has matured into a dependable and capable midfielder and should play a more prominent role this season. Chambers saw action in 19 games as a freshman and then played in 19 of the 22 games as a sophomore.

Also figuring into the mix will be sophomore Dan Shaffer and transfer Austin Cottrell along with freshmen Barkley Miller, Christopher Ascherl, and John Tilghman.

The defense is another area where Gorman has the option of shuffling players around. Junior Markku Viitanen has been a steadying force for the past two seasons, playing in 39 of Penn State's 42 games.

David Gray played in 16 games as a freshman and then came on strong at the end of last season, starting nine of the last 11 matches. Geordie MacNeill and Stephen Reihner gained valuable experience as freshmen and both look as if they will figure into the starting rotation heading into 2005.

Back after a one-year battle with Leukemia, Grady Renfrow will make his much anticipated return to the pitch for the Nittany Lions. Renfrow, who will be a sophomore, played in 12 games, starting five during his freshman campaign in 2003.

Patrick Martin, Andy Machi, and Austrian Michael Janov are other possibilities on defense.

Conrad Taylor is back to start between the pipes after producing one of the best freshman campaigns in school history.Taylor walked off with honors on the Top Drawer Soccer, College Soccer News, Soccer America, and Big Ten All-Freshman teams. He was also a five-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.Taylor played every minute in goal, posting a 10-4-8 record with a 1.02 goals against average and eight shutouts. In 2005, two new goaltenders will challenge Taylor for the starting spot. Lance Kichler and Michael Tilatti will forge a fierce battle in preseason practices.
The Penn State Nike Classic highlights another strong schedule for Gorman's squad. Set for September 16-18, the Classic features the Nittany Lions hosting No. 9 UCLA and Cal State Fullerton. On that same weekend, the Penn State athletic family will welcome back the 1954-55 men's soccer national championship teams for their 50th reunion.

The 2005 schedule will pit the Nittany Lions against highly-ranked non-conference opponents, No. 2 Maryland and No. 8 New Mexico. Traditional foes, including two-time defending national champion Indiana, No. 18 Ohio State, and 24th-ranked Northwestern, in addition to Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Akron, and Hartwick make 2005 another challenging year for the Lions.