Aug. 27, 2009
For the Penn State men's soccer team, all of the pieces are in place for a highly successful 2009 season. The roster features a balance of hungry young players and battle-tested veterans. Talent is prevalent at every position. Excellent team chemistry has produced a close-knit unit. The squad has displayed mental toughness and has proven to be comprised of strong characters.
"This group wants to win at all costs," said 22-year Penn State head coach Barry Gorman. "And they have the mindset that they are going to do something about it. They have put the effort into their summer programs toward that end, and I look forward to seeing the results of their hard work this fall."
The main obstacle that stands in the way of the Nittany Lions attaining their goals is one that has hampered their progress in each of the last three seasons - injuries. In 2008, eight starters or key contributors combined to miss a total of over 60 games. Foremost on that list was two-time All-Big Ten forward Jason Yeisley and back line regular Andy Parr, who were both sidelined for the entire season while rehabbing knee injuries suffered in 2007. However, Yeisley and Parr, along with their fellow injured teammates, will be back this season and are determined to make their presence felt. If they return to form and the plague of injuries that has ravaged the Lions in recent years is avoided, 2009 could prove to be a breakout season for Penn State.
Gorman will have a variety of weapons in his offensive arsenal at the forward position in 2009.
Headlining the unit will be senior Yeisley. The former First Team All-Big Ten selection is Penn State's leading returning scorer, totaling 16 goals and 11 assists (43 points) in 41 career starts. At 6-1, 200, he provides the Nittany Lion front line with a physical presence. As a two-time team captain, he is also prized for his leadership abilities and his infectious, hard-working approach. Fellow seniors Jacobo Vera (6 goals, 2 assists) and Vincent Salvatico (5 goals, 3 assists) have been solid contributors throughout their careers and will look to put a history of injuries behind them and make the most of their senior seasons.
Junior Treavor Gelsinger, a Second Team All-Big Ten selection a year ago, has had two productive seasons at Penn State and a third seems assured. In 2008, he was the team's leading goal scorer (6), after topping the Lions in assists as a freshman (6). Sophomore Corey Hertzog offered a glimpse of a bright future in his rookie season, which included a two-goal effort in an upset of Big Ten rival Ohio State.
The midfield possesses a wealth of talent and depth and features an ideal mix of youth and experience, both on the offensive and defensive ends, making the position an area of strength for the Nittany Lions.
Attacking midfielders Frank Costigliola, Drew Cost, Matheus Braga, and Mackenzie Arment have offensive mindsets and will be relied on for points.
Costigliola is the reigning veteran of the unit with 44 career games including 26 starts to his credit. Juniors Cost and Braga form the backbone of the group. Cost, a two-goal scorer in each of his first two years, has star potential while Braga, an excellent passer who plays with flair, led Penn State in assists a year ago in his first season as a Nittany Lion. Arment, a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team, is a player to watch after ending the 2008 season second on the squad in points.
Adding a defensive component to the midfield position will be Matt Smallwood, Diego Correa, and Marco Ciarla. Smallwood, a tough as nails competitor, markedly improved as his freshman season progressed, translating into five starts, but was slowed by a separated shoulder late in the year. Correa, a senior, and Ciarla, a redshirt sophomore, will also push for playing time.
The Penn State defense is loaded, both in terms of quality and quantity, giving Gorman various options to choose from when setting his starting line-up or making substitutions. The unit will be buoyed by the healthy return of junior Andres Casais, a heady central defender who missed a large portion of the last season after fracturing his cheekbone during a game in September.
Three players who were forced into extensive duty due to injuries as freshman are back and will be the foundation of the defense. What Justin Lee lacks in physical size at 5-10, 155, he makes up for in heart and game knowledge. Mark Fetrow, a strong and towering central defender, led the team in minutes played in 2008 and was a legitimate Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate. Patrick Krispin made the transition from forward to defender so successfully he forced his way into the starting line-up late in the season and provided the team with a spark.
Add in a fully-recovered Andy Parr, who was a fixture on the back line, starting 22 of 24 career contests, before his knee injury and highly-touted recruit Brian Forgue and the Penn State defense will unquestionably be the team's most improved and deepest position.
Redshirt sophomore Warren Gross enters the 2009 season entrenched as Penn State's starting goalkeeper. At 6-3, 207, he possesses ideal size for a collegiate netminder.
Gross manned the goal down the stretch in 2008, starting the final four games of the season, and excelled, drawing the attention of the national college soccer watchers. For his play in a 1-1 tie versus offensive powerhouse No. 2 Akron and a 1-0 shutout win against rival No. 17-ranked Indiana, he was named NSCAA National Defensive Player of the Week.
Bryan Heffner redshirted his freshman year and is prepared to use lessons learned from watching from the sidelines last season to contribute if called into duty in 2009. He is a diligent worker and pushes Gross on a daily basis in practice.