MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- The 2011 campaign was filled with as many highs and lows as any other season in program history. Head coach Steve McCrath led his Buccaneers to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. Barry advanced to the regional final before falling to rival Lynn by way of penalty kicks. The Bucs posted a 12-3-6 mark, and avenged a pair of losses to Rollins in both the regular season and the Sunshine State Conference Tournament with a 3-1 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
McCrath has built a solid foundation, and the men’s soccer program will look to reload as opposed to rebuild with a blend of experienced veterans and a talented group of incoming players. Barry returns eight starters, three All-SSC selections, three Daktronics All-South Region members and is led by Daktronics All-Americans Johnny Rodrigues and Guilherme Oliveira.
“This fall, we have a lot of new players who have yet to play with us, but not a lot of new faces since a majority of our recruits were training with us in the spring semester,” McCrath said. “The defense will be a question with only one starter from last year’s defensive third returning. However a lot of experienced and talented players will look to fill the void that should develop into one of the team’s strengths as the season progresses.
“Overall we have a quality core group of players. This bunch has a sensational work ethic, a desire for success. They don’t cut corners and have the intangibles to be successful on and off the field.”
The Buccaneers return two seniors between the pipes this fall in Johnny Rodrigues and Fred Perez. They also welcome freshman Robby Shearer into a skilled group of goalkeepers. Rodrigues is a two-time All-American with tremendous leadership on and off the field.
This past spring, Perez and the Bucs captured the South Florida Cup, posting three consecutive shutouts. The only goals Perez allowed during the four-game round-robin tournament came in the team’s final match against Division I Florida International. The Bucs defeated the Golden Panthers, 3-2, en route to capturing the cup. Perez has shown great improvement, maturing in his role between the pipes.
Joining the veteran group of keepers will be freshman Shearer. The Lake Howell native will gain valuable experience behind the seniors. Shearer has the physical tools, and the coaching staff will have to groom him as they part ways with three keepers at the end of the season.
The defensive third will be a question heading into the start of fall camp, but good programs don’t rebuild, they reload. McCrath has instilled a reputation of teams that are built with an attacking mentality offensively and at the same time trust their defense to step up.
“We have the capability to be very tough defensively this year,” McCrath said. “We have the ability to play different styles. We can either go light in the back, and do well, or we can move to a more physical style depending on matchups and how the game is progressing.”
Senior All-American Joe Conkleton brings experience to the back line, but their success lies in their ability to mesh and communicate as they work together.
“Joe certainly brings experience to our defense,” McCrath said. “He is extremely adept at starting attacks from the back line.
“Defense is about timing, and it’s the easiest aspect of soccer. It’s certainly much easier to defend than to create which is why we are confident in the players that we have to be successful.”
Last year’s squad relied on its defense in the early portion of the season as it proved to be the team’s backbone. This season McCrath will look to several newcomers to hold the reigns as they reestablish the back line. The newcomers that will look to make an early impact defensively include juniors Shaun Herselman and Ryan Barksdale. Herselman is a junior college transfer who possesses the ball effectively, and is adept to attacking from the flank.
Incoming freshmen Cris Sevieri, Michael Dodds, Gustavo Rivera and Bryan Brown have all turned in solid showings in camp thus far, and will all battle for time this fall.
“Michael is a very tough-nosed defensive player and possesses very good leadership qualities for a young player,” McCrath said.
McCrath stressed the importance of communication along the backline as the key to this group’s success. Under McCrath, the Bucs have developed a reputation for having teams that constantly attack. However, the Buccaneers have had some of the strongest defensive teams in the SSC and throughout the South region.
The midfield will be one of the most talented in the conference as it is filled with experienced players and interchangeable playmakers. Senior Guilherme Oliveira proved to be a force last fall on his way to earning All-America honors, but others such as Randy Taylor, Joong Kim, Christian Yidios and Houghton Kinsman will bring experience to the engine that makes this team run. Taylor finished last fall with four goals, and Yidios and Kinsman played in 20 and 19 games, respectively, for the Bucs in 2011.
“Those who have played us know that we are an attacking team,” McCrath said. “We love to posses the ball and create opportunities. We feel that we are in the upper echelon and have the ability to play both ways. That is, constantly attacking and solid defense so we aren’t surprised when we put up 4-5 goals, nor does it surprise us when we shut other teams out.
“This year, one of our major strengths will be our versatility and depth. It’s exciting to know how many players we are able to plug into a game without that dropoff in (production).”
The ability to play several different styles is something McCrath has stressed. The midfield is a group that will facilitate scoring by either “buzzing” around and spreading the field or through a more physical approach – winning the battle in the trenches.
Kim fits the Buccaneers’ team mentality with his ability to create and exhibits a constant attacking approach. Kim wreaked havoc on opposing defenses last year with his speed and agility. The junior from South Korea led the team with seven assists, and has developed into a weapon offensively.
After redshirting with the Buccaneers in 2011, Rio Torto and Wilkinson have learned the system and are now ready to put the pieces together on the pitch. Both players will contribute this fall and bring another notch to what is an already versatile squad. Furthermore, freshman Renzo Chavez has shown solid technical ability on the ball despite his size. Diego Habib, a Division I transfer from Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, will also bolster the midfield with his attacking mindset and tight skill on the ball.
Last fall, the Buccaneers parted ways with one of the best players in program history and the Division II National Player of the Year Mark Anderson. The England native carried the scoring load with 21 goals. Sticking with his team’s philosophy of staying busy, McCrath expects his players up top to “remain active up there.”
Kendall Sealy is poised for a strong season, building upon a solid junior campaign.
“Kendall has the physical tools to be extremely successful. He’s a player that will benefit from our need as a team to distribute the scoring load,” McCrath said.
Sophomores Connor Randel and Eyal Schechter burst onto the scene last fall, and both played key roles in the Bucs’ success. Randel, who has the ability to play the forward and midfield position, finished the year with four goals – all resulting in gamewinners. Schechter started 10 games as a rookie, scoring a goal to go along with five assists.
“Our forwards, like other positions on our team, have great versatility. We certainly have some guys who can do some things whether they are on the ball or playing off the ball,” McCrath said. “We know our scoring isn’t going to come from one guy primarily as was the case with (Anderson) last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had four or five players with eight or more goals this season.”
With their rookie seasons under their belt, the tandem of Randel and Schechter will look to take another step forward having gained valuable experience last fall. The forwards provide quickness, speed and size up top, making them difficult to mark in the flow of the game and in set plays.
Newcomer Coombes will also be looked upon to contribute having already become acclimated with the Bucs. Coombes, a native of Newcastle England, practiced with the Buccaneers all of last year, and is ready to step in and play as a freshman. Also joining the Bucs this fall is Patrick Drmola, a highly-touted recruit out of Chelsea, England. The forward is expected to make an immediate impact, and raise the level of play across the board. Drmola has the size, speed and strength, and will certainly be a player to keep an eye on as the season develops. With his maturity and talent, Drmola has the potential to be one of the top players in the conference.
All in all, the Bucs return valuable pieces of what is shaping up to be a championship-contending squad in 2012. With the season opener on the horizon, the Bucs continue to work, improve and mesh as a team. With an abundance of leadership and talent across the board, McCrath and his staff are prepared for the challenge that awaits them this fall.