Returning players power men’s soccer
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Last season’s Bulls (8-8-2, 3-2-1 Mid-American Conference) came within a hair’s breadth of winning the MAC title. For the first time in six seasons, Akron lost in the semi-finals, which gave the Bulls an easier than usual path to the title.
With only two wins between them and the championship, the Bulls fell just short, losing to eventual champion Northern Illinois 1-0 in the semifinals.
Although they came close to getting their ultimate goal, last season was a rollercoaster for the men’s soccer team. Sixteen days before the season, head coach John Astudillo announced he would be taking a medical leave of absence. But the Bulls sprinted out of the gate, going undefeated in their first five games of the season. The Bulls then lost four straight games, including two humbling road loses against Air Force and Denver.
However, the Bull’s true highlights came during conference play. They opened conference play with a win against nationally ranked Northern Illinois, 2-1, and shut out Bowling Green, 5-0. The Bulls continued to play well enough through their next four games to earn the three seed in the MAC tournament.
Last season’s success and playoff exit have made this year’s team hungry to push even further into the postseason.
“There was definitely a different edge this year,” said head coach David Hesch. “The guys understand that its not going to take much for us to be champions now. Maybe a little bit of discipline, a little bit of harder work, a little bit of working on technical skills, things like that will help us inch closer towards that championship.”
Although the Bulls had trouble consistently playing at a high level last season, the consistency of personnel from last season will be a huge asset for them in 2012.
“We are bringing back nine out of the 11 starters, so we have good consistency which is going to be huge for us next year to keep the level [of play] high,” Hesch said. “We also have some newcomers that will compete for some jobs and will keep everybody on their toes.”
With expectations for the upcoming season high, the Bulls spent the offseason getting in better physical shape and preparing to build off last year’s success.
During the spring they also had some scrimmages and were able to compete against strong competition at a high level. The Bulls are using the summer to hone their soccer skills on club teams around the country and continue to play at a high level into the fall.
The Bulls strong season came despite some goal scoring woes. Because they were outscored 28-26, Hesch has had his team address their offensive sluggishness during the offseason. This past spring, he put an emphasis on an attacking style of play with the focus on getting men downfield to get clearer shots on goal and give better opportunities to find the back of the net.
Hesch is excited to watch this group of guys play together this year. He likes the way that his team does everything as a unit. Instead of the offense attacking and the defense defending, each phase of the game is a total team effort, and he is excited to watch them compete for a MAC title.
The strong team play will lead the individuals to perform better, and Hesch has some high expectations, especially for junior midfielder Richard Craven. Craven has seen significant playing time during both his freshman and sophomore years. In last season’s win against Niagara, he scored the game winning goal, which was just one of his three goals on the season.
Craven has taken steps forward in each season thus far and this season does not look to be an exception.
“Now being a junior, he’s going to step up. I think he’s holding a lot on his own shoulders, he wants to do well also,” Hesch said. “He should be one of the better players in the conference next year and I am counting on him to be big time for us.”
The amount of experience that this team has with each other, along with strong underclassmen that are ready to lead this team, the Bulls will be a formidable opponent this year. If they can follow Hesch and his coaching staff’s tutelage successfully this season, Buffalo’s next MAC title could be coming sooner than expected.