Barry University’s men’s soccer team has grown into one of the premiere soccer programs in all of Division II but the gauntlet that is the Sunshine State Conference and the South Region can wreck havoc on even the strongest programs.
In 2012 the Buccaneers struggled and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008. A number of factors including injuries at key positions and a number of talented but inexperienced players contributed towards the Bucs struggles a year ago.
But that was a year ago and head coach Steve McCrath returns 12 players including eight rising sophomores who gained valuable experience as rookies a year ago as well as his All-American goalkeeper who are all determined to return to the NCAA Tournament this fall.
“The biggest thing, it wasn’t a very good year on so many fronts as far as a lack of leadership, injuries, preparation both as individuals and as a team,” said McCrath.
“We didn’t have anyone that could take charge of a team as we did in 2011 with Mark. We had players who had performed well because of the abilities of the players around them. The true talent of the individuals was exposed and that’s where [last year’s] group needed to be strong together.
Unfortunately it was just right for a storm that was never going to correct itself. Coming into this season guys worked hard on setting a line for what they were not willing to accept, mediocrity,” said McCrath.
Barry will have to replace All-Americans Guilherme Oliveira in the midfield and Joe Conkleton along the back line, but the return of Johnny Rodrigues between the pipes will certainly help as McCrath reloads this year’s squad.
Johnny Rodrigues (Sr., Rio de Janiero, Brazil) Robert Shearer (So., Lake Howell, Fla.)
The Buccaneers welcome back Rodrigues who was missed not only for his ability on the pitch but for his leadership on and off the field. Rodrigues is among the best goalkeepers in program history ranking second all-time with an .805 save percentage and a 0.85 goals-against average. He currently sits third with 35 wins and 202 career saves.
Before being side-lined for the entire 2012 campaign in the preseason, Rodrigues solidified himself as one of the best keepers in all of Division II. The two-time All-American not only boasts a resume with numerous accolades but he also brings the experience of postseason play to a young Buccaneer squad.
“Johnny is a vocal person. He has no problem taking a leadership role and he definitely does a lot of things for the program,” said McCrath.
“He works really hard to set himself up for success.”
Redshirt freshman Robby Shearer has a full season with the program and has come a long way in his ability to adapt to the college game, adding depth at keeper for the Bucs this fall.
Bryan Brown (So., Lewes, Del.) Jack Fisher (Fr., Liversedge, England)
Michael Dodds (So., Gateshead, England) Michael Fernandez (Fr., Jupiter, Fla.)
Shaun Herselman (Sr., Johannesburg, South Africa)
Gustavo Rivera (So., San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Along the defensive third the Bucs will have to replace Joe Conkleton, a four-year starter and an All-American who ranks second in program history with over 6200 minutes played. However, several Buccaneers gained valuable experience last fall including sophomore Michael Dodds. Dodds was one of two players to start every game for the Buccaneers in 2012 and leads returners in minutes played.
Another key returner likely to impact the defensive third will be co-captain Shaun Herselman. The Johannesburg, South Africa native enters his senior year after being limited to nine starts a year ago due to lingering injuries.
“The key will be to do things extremely well consistently. Players such as Dodds, Gustavo Rivera, Herselman and Bryan Brown, who made great strides towards the end of last season, will allow us to have balance and strength,” said McCrath.
Newcomers Michael Fernandez and Jack Fisher will also be called upon to contribute and the defense could develop into one of the teams’ biggest strengths.
“This group is capable of doing a lot of good things for us this season.”
McCrath stressed the importance of every player to be prepared to contribute at a moment’s notice. Last season the Buccaneers suffered injuries before the start of the regular season and unfortunately, the injury bug continued to plague them throughout the fall as well.
“Injuries are a part of the college game,” said McCrath. “We don’t have the reserves. It will be good to have guys with the mentality that they have to [be ready] go in, play and contribute.”
Renzo Chavez (So., Miami, Fla.) Enrique Barboto (Fr., Odessa, Fla.)
Joong Kim (Sr., Seoul, South Korea) Dujan Foster (Fr., Deltona, Fla.)
Connor Randel (Jr., Shreveport, La.) Pablo Georgakopoulos (Fr., Doral, Fla.)
Lucas Rio Torto (Jr., Rio de Janiero, Brazil) Nico Gercke (Jr., Warenholz, Germany)
Kris Wilkinson (Jr., Newcastle, England) Fabian Heinrich (Fr., Karlsruhe, Germany)
Ryan King (Fr., Durham, England)
Mumbi Kwesele (Fr., Des Momes, Wash.)
Although the Bucs return five lettermen in the midfield this fall, only two bring back significant playing experience in senior Joong Kim and junior Connor Randel. Last fall Randel led the Buccaneers with five goals and ten points while Kim has 48 games thus far in his career.
However, Randel and Kim both occupy the flanks therefore Kris Wilkinson and Lucas Rio Torto are among the returners that will occupy the midfield.
“This group will be a combination of players that are able to possess the ball, close, win balls and will have to be ‘there’ all of the time. The key here will be less thinking, more doing and I believe we have the players to do that and be successful at it,” said McCrath.
McCrath explained that the biggest hurdle will be to grow that continuity, specifically in the middle, in just 17 days due to the shortened preseason training camp before competitive play.
“Getting the kids to understand the simplest things possible in a short amount of time will be a work in progress as we move along heading into the season,” said McCrath.
Sophomore Renzo Chavez is another tactical player who gained experience last fall coming off the bench in ten games for the Bucs.
Also in the mix are newcomers Nico Gercke, Fabian Heinrich, Ryan King as well as Dujan Foster and Mumbi Kwesele. Thus far in the preseason Kwesele has shown the ability to adapt to the college game with his speed and Gercke has added size and grit to the midfield while King has exhibited both strength and speed. Being new to the program, it will be a challenge for these players to build continuity on the pitch while also learning coach McCrath’s system but they’re certainly up to the challenge.
Thomas Coombes (So., Newcastle, England) Jose Giron (Fr., Guatemala City, Guatemala)
Patrick Drmola (So., Chelsea, England) Ryan King (Fr., Durham, England)
Esteban Ochoa (Fr., Tamarac, Fla.)
In 2012, the Bucs struggled to find the back of the net, amassing just 18 goals as a team a year after scoring 40 goals as a squad. The drop-off in scoring had a lot to do with the departure of Division II National Player of the Year Mark Anderson, injuries to forward Thomas Coombes and the late addition of Patrick Drmola.
“One of the things we didn’t do well is a massive drop off of goal production,” said McCrath.
“We did well to rely on a strong player in Mark, but Mark could’ve been stronger if others around him would have put themselves in position to believe they are cut throat finishers. You need a team that works hard at becoming those types of players.”
Coombes, voted the team’s MVP last fall was plagued with injuries but seems to be on the right track heading into fall camp while Drmola has now had one full calendar year in the Buccaneers’ system which will hopefully help him play much more natural and comfortably within the offense this season.
Because Coombes and Drmola saw limited action last season, McCrath and his staff believe they have very few veterans.
“[Drmola and Coombes] have been in the program but they don’t necessarily have a track record and the staff has stressed the fact that the level of performance must go up,” said McCrath. “I expect them to be important pieces to the puzzles but not put games on their shoulders.”
Contributing to the Buccaneers’ attack will be newcomers Jose Giron, Ryan King and Esteban Ochoa. King possesses great physical tools and Giron and King also have the [potential] of developing a scoring prowess.
“The best thing for them will be to see how they perform in the competitive sessions as they fight for opportunities on the field.”
The Buccaneers’ task is a challenging one, not only competing in the always competitive Sunshine State Conference, but also in the South Region which only grants three postseason berths in the NCAA Tournament.
With a pair of regional matchups to begin the season it’s important for the Bucs to get off to a strong start.
“Early on the regional games are critical but the New York trip was planned to invite the challenge of travel, playing long games against tough competition,” said McCrath.
The Buccaneers travel up the east coast for matchups in New York and New Jersey after opening up the season with a pair of home matches against regional opponents.
“It’s a chance to learn some stuff and see what happens.”