Aug. 27, 2008
Coming off its best season in school history, Ohio State returns to the pitch in 2008 minus eight players, seven of which comprised a senior class that accumulated more wins than any other senior class in the 56 year history of the Buckeye soccer program. The 2007 seniors capped off their careers with a Big Ten Championship and a runner-up finish at the College Cup.
While the eight departures might have included three MLS draft picks, a pair of All-Americans and statistically the best goalkeeper ever to play at Ohio State, seven returning starters keep optimism alive as the Buckeyes go for their fifth-consecutive double-digit win season.
Big Shoes to Fill
Last year, the Buckeyes streaked their way to a program-best 17 wins by feeding off the strength of four players who controlled four main areas of the game: manning the net, defending the mouth of the 18-yard box, controlling pace in the midfield and setting up goals.
Casey Latchem, a MLS combine invitee, garnered a Big Ten-best 15 shutouts on his way to ending his career as Ohio State's all-time leader in that category (27), as well as goals against average (0.87).
Eric Brunner, the 16th overall selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, was the rock to Ohio State's stingy backline, earning All-American honors.
Roger Espinoza, a Generation adidas signee after his junior season and the 11th overall selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, was a first team All-Big Ten selection in the midfield and scored the lone goal in the Ohio State's 2-1 national championship loss to Wake Forest.
Xavier Balc, the second overall selection in the 2008 MLS Supplemental Draft, became the program's all-time leader in assists (35) and shots (261) on his way to earning 2007 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and All-American honors.
But the cupboard is by no means bare.
"We return three of four defenders and three of four midfielders from the team that went to the College Cup," Bluem said. "That gives us reason to be hopeful that if we can plug the holes we'll have a good team."
"We have been very comfortable in goal the last few years with Ray Burse Jr. and Casey Latchem," Bluem said. "This year, it's a wide-open competition and we may not know who our goalkeeper is going to be until the Wolstein Classic is here and we have to pick one for that first game."
Replacing Latchem in net will be a battle amongst three players beginning with junior Byron Neal and redshirt freshman Ryan Dalton. Neal served in a backup role behind Latchem in 2007.
Adding himself to the mix is Drew Czekanski, who spent three years at perennial power Virginia Tech. Czekanski sat out the 2007 season with injury after posting an 8-3 record with a 1.42 GAA during his time in Blacksburg.
"If the season were to start today, Byron would be our starter," Bluem said. "But we hope the competition for the goalkeeper spot is good and may the best man win. And Drew is a welcomed addition. Considering he started 12 games for Virginia Tech in 2006 he is the most experienced goalkeeper of the three."
One of the big keys to Ohio State's journey to Cary, N.C. for the 2007 College Cup was its defense. With Bruner sparking the backline, the Buckeyes gave up a mere 0.73 goals a game.
With only Brunner departing, seniors Tim Gabel and Patrick Roan and junior Doug Verhoff carry the most experience heading into 2008.
Returning to hold down a central back position is Verhoff. Riding the momentum following his College Cup All-Tournament team accolade, he continues to be a versatile part of Bluem's arsenal.
With Roan manning the right back slot, sophomore Jordan Lomnicki looks to be a legitimate candidate for starter minutes. He gained valuable experience last year, starting six games and appearing in four of the five NCAA Tournament matches.
Also looking for time in the back in 2008 will be returning junior Joe Moore, along with newcomers David Schade, Dalton Summers and Dave Tiemstra.
Coach Bluem finds the deepest part of his roster at the midfield position. Losing only Espinoza, seniors Danny Irizarry and Geoff Marsh lead a crop of eight players in line for game action.
"By the end of the 2007 season Roger may have been our best player, especially in the two games at the College Cup," Bluem said.
Irizarry was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year and teams up in the center of the midfield with Matt Gold, a Big Ten All-Freshmen team performer last season.
"By the end of last season, Irizarry and Gold were a well-oiled machine," the Buckeye coach said. "They knew their roles well and played off of each other very well and we hope they regain that form this season."
On the right flank, Marsh will look to continue steady play after handing out five helpers while netting one goal last season.
The leading candidate among the veterans to fill in for Espinoza at left mid is sophomore Sam Scales, who appeared in 15 games last season. The deep pool of Buckeye midfielders also includes senior Scott Marguglio and freshmen Nick Galiardi, German Gomez, Ross Dickson and Michael Schmidt.
Junior Andrew Magill, playing sidekick to Balc last season, tallied five goals and four assists and will be back as the main weapon for OSU offensively.
"Andrew has a lot more confidence now after playing well in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.," Bluem said. "We're going to rely a lot on Andrew to score goals for us this season."
Providing support for Magill will be sophomore Konrad Warzycha, who moves from attacking midfielder to striker.
Another player returning to roam the frontline will be sophomore Nowa Thiam, who was third among freshmen in shots. Providing depth up top will be freshmen including Josh Breto, Eric Shrigley and Sam Sprauer.