Ohio State Preview
Aug. 26, 2004
After averaging 11 wins from 1999-2002, the 2003 season was not what the Ohio State men's soccer program had in mind. Several factors, among them injuries and the nation's eighth-toughest schedule, dealt the Buckeyes a 4-12-4 record as Ohio State faced 14 opponents ranked in the Top 25 at some point during the season. In addition, nine of Ohio State's 12 losses were by just one goal.
The experiences gained from facing those tough teams will only help the Buckeyes this season as Ohio State faces a schedule that could be even tougher than last season. Facing that difficult schedule will be a squad that features 11 returning letterwinners and seven returning starters.
Bolstered by the return of All-Big Ten forward Justin Cook, who missed last season due to injury, and Akron transfer Kyle Veris, eighth year head coach John Bluem expects his offense to more than double its 2003 output of 13 goals. Therefore the focus in preseason will be to fill the void left by four graduated seniors which comprised one of the Big Ten's best defenses.
"With Justin Cook not playing last year, it (the offense) fell on Kevin Nugent's shoulders," Bluem said, noting Nugent also battled injuries last season. "Justin was able to play for us in the spring and what a dramatic difference it made in how dangerous we looked as a team. He draws so much attention and works so hard to create things up front that it creates space for those that play with him."
Cook (53 career points) and Veris will get plenty of shots themselves as Ohio State's offensive attack will be transformed in 2004. Veris, who totaled 12 points in two seasons at Akron and made two trips to the NCAA tournament. He, along with Cook and Nugent, give the Buckeyes a rotation of three forwards that all three will be very dangerous. Newcomers Ryan Kustos, Reid Traeger, David Bauer and Eric Edwards will figure into the plans, as well.
As a freshman last season, Taylor Korpieski led the team in scoring with six points (two goals, two assists), while Peter Withers, now a senior, also collected two goals. A pair of sophomores, Brent Rohrer and Rob Strachan, played in nearly every match last season and are talented contributors.
A trio of freshmen will add depth to the Buckeye midfield this fall and will develop quickly into contributors. Kyle Retzlaff will train on the left side of the midfield behind Withers, while David Bauer will see action behind Tamporello on the right side. In the middle, Xavier Balc, the two-time Ohio High School Division I Player of the Year, could make his mark quickly at the collegiate level.
DEFENDERS AND GOALKEEPERS
"In the preseason, the question mark may be who is going to step up and win the job as our defenders," said Bluem. "Which players are going to show that they deserve to be on the field defensively and where are they going to play."
Three more candidates for starting spots in the back line are no strangers to the field. Brent Rohrer started 18 matches in the midfield last year as a freshman, while junior Jim Fisher played in five games and Reid Traeger played in seven games two seasons ago as a freshman.
Junior Ray Burse, who posted a 1.27 goals-against average last year in 17 matches, returns as Ohio State's starting goalkeeper. He collected 52 saves in his first year in front of the net and spent the offseason training with the Columbus Crew. He will be backed up this fall by freshman Casey Latchem.
"The Big Ten was the second-rated conference in the nation last year behind the ACC, and we open with two ACC teams so that should set the stage for our own conference," Bluem said. "The conference is outstanding. Every game can go either direction. Our players will be excited to play the quality of competition that we're playing again this year. They'll know that if we're beating these teams it's because we're becoming a good team and we're playing good soccer."
The Buckeyes will travel to two tournaments before closing out September with non-conference opponents Bowling Green and Kentucky. Eight matches in October include five Big Ten contests, the first two of which will take place in Columbus. Five of OSU's final six regular season matches will be on the road, with the lone home tilt being Oct. 24 vs. defending national champion Indiana.