1997 Season Outlook |
Oct. 18, 1997
"Committed. Determined. Victorious."
It often is said that defense wins championships. However, if an offense can't score, then no championship celebrations will ever be enjoyed. UNLV Director of Soccer/Men's Head Coach Barry Barto knows this more than anyone else. After several seasons of sporadic offense, the 15-year Rebel coach is committed and determined to inject some punch into his offensive attack as UNLV tries to improve upon its 1996 record of 5-11-4 (1-5-2/8th place in the Western Athletic Conference).
"We need to score goals," Barto said. "We have to be a threat offensively so that teams will not have their way with us as they did last year. We have to finish off the chances we create. We can't always rely on our defense keeping it close. That becomes too difficult."
In order to fill the team's needs, Barto has brought in nine news faces to join the 12 returning lettermen and the three redshirts. Heading the list of newcomers are three forwards: Daniel Schloss (sophomore from Sunrise, Fla.), John Sheldon (freshman from Kalispell, Mont.) and Brian Weems (freshman from Albuquerque, N.M.).
"We struggled mentally last year," Barto said, "because we knew if we got behind early then we were going to struggle to get back into the match."
Barto is hoping that these newcomers along with the returning players will give UNLV the offense it needs to succeed.
"We have so many news faces that it's going to take time to see where everyone fits in and best serves the team," he said. "But, I believe we have the talent to be successful."
Among the top returning players for UNLV is junior forward Michael Griego. The El Paso, Texas, native was a first-team All-WAC selection in 1996, while scoring five goals with two assists. His numbers were down considerably from the 11 goals and one assist as a freshman. However, Barto believes Griego was trying to do too much last year and that teams were able to focus on him since no other player was able to step forward as a threat.
"Michael brings a lot to the table," Barto said. "I am really counting on his leadership this year. He returns as an experienced and mature player and he needs to make the other players responsible for doing their job."
Another player with considerable expectations placed upon his shoulders is Lasse Andersen. The sophomore forward from Roskilde, Denmark, struggled in his first season in Las Vegas. He was held scoreless, but did display flashes of his talent throughout the year.
"Lasse gained a lot of valuable experience last year," Barto said. "He came in with high expectations his first year and struggled. Still, he has the potential to be a solid player. He has the strength and speed needed to be a threat. He just needs to work hard and improve his finishing."
B.J. McNicol, a sophomore from Centerville, Utah, is the other returning forward who enters the season with high hopes and much potential.
Still, with so much focus on scoring, the offense can't put the ball into the back of the net unless there is a midfield that distributes the ball and controls the flow of the game.
"If the midfield isn't doing its business at both ends of the field, then we will struggle," Barto said. "They are the engine. If they work hard and create chances, then we need to score. Last year, they created the chances, but we did not finish."
Running the show in the midfield should be senior Darek Rensing, junior Kiko Medina and sophomore Geoff Barto.
Rensing, a native of St. Louis, Mo., returns for his second season after starting all 20 matches in 1996. He played outside midfield last year, but looks to move inside in 1997.
"Darek had a good spring camp, much better than the fall," Barto said. "I am not sure where he will play, but I am hoping he can score five to nine goals this season."
Medina, a native of Chula Vista, Calif., looks to return to the starting lineup after spending the majority of 1996 as a reserve. He put together a solid freshman campaign only to drop off last year.
"Kiko is a versatile player capable of filling in at several spots," Barto said. "He is one of our experienced players and makes a difference in our depth."
Barto, son of the head coach and Henderson, Nev., native, started 19 matches as a marking back and was forced to push up when the Rebels had to press the offense. The team's leading assist man in 1996 with four, he could end up at outside midfield this year.
"I am not quite sure where we will play Geoff this year," Barto said. "His roll is dependent upon where others fit in."
Several newcomers will have to step forward and produce this season if UNLV hopes to maintain solid play in the midfield. These newcomers are freshmen Jay Hamilton, Gergely Kokavecz, Alfonso Romero, Tony Tapia and Matt Thompson.
Defensively, UNLV had a solid season in 1996. Even though there were matches in which the Rebels allowed six or seven goals, those happened when UNLV was forced to push forward to score and got outnumbered on counterattacks.
"We did okay on defense last year," Barto said. "There were games when we got caught forward cheating since we tried to do everything we could to muster some offense. Our main question mark is at sweeper because we haven't had a true sweeper in several seasons."
Last year, Andreas Roell, a junior from Karlsruhe, Germany, moved from the midfield to sweeper. While Barto would like to return Roell to the midfield this season, it appears he will have to play him on the backline once again.
"Andy has a great work ethic and the leadership skills," Barto said. "He has the calm experience needed to direct the team and that is done better from the back where you can see the entire field."
Another experienced defender is T'Jon Akins, a junior from Miramar, Fla. Akins has started all but two matches at right marking back the last two seasons. He is a solid defender and rarely noticed on the field because if a marking back gets noticed it is due to a mistake.
"T'Jon is such a steady player, " Barto said. "He can play a number of rolls and just gets the job done."
Ryan Utsman, a senior from Plantation, Fla., has shown tremendous improvement during the offseason. He is a solid worker and first-rate student. He will battle for a starting spot at stopper.
"Ryan is definitely one of the team leaders," Barto said. "He worked hard during the offseason and is the model of work ethic. He should do an admirable job on the backline."
Rounding out the returning lettermen on the backline is a pair of sophomores. Rob Delgado, from El Paso, and Todd Roberts, from Las Vegas, gained valuable experience despite limited playing time as freshmen. They both had solid spring camps and look to play vital roles in 1997.
Two other defenders looking to make an impact are, red-shirt freshman Ryan Bindrup and true freshman Paul Lunkwitz. Both are local players with Bindrup coming from Green Valley High School and Lunkwitz playing at Cimarron Memorial High School.
One extremely positive factor for the 1997 UNLV soccer team is that its most experienced player also is its starting goalkeeper. Dan Abdalla, from Mission Viejo, Calif., returns for his senior season. After two seasons as the starting goalie, Abdalla has the needed maturity and experience to guide the team from the backline.
"Dan understands the game," Barto said. "He has been a part of this team for four seasons and gained confidence from facing so much adversity. He is an important asset to this team."
Also a benefit is the presence of Abdalla's brother, Todd Abdalla. The younger Abdalla enters the fall as the No. 2 goalie returning after redshirting his first year. The Abdalla brothers will be pushed further by another red-shirt freshman goalie, Keith Sautel, from Highland, Calif.
UNLV will play another solid schedule in 1997 hosting Fresno State, Kentucky and Michigan State in the Snickers/FILA Rebel Classic and Cal State Northridge, Gonzaga and Stanford in the Coors Light Invitational. The big road tournament is the Evansville Aces Soccer Classic where the Rebels will face host Evansville and South Carolina.
UNLV will begin its second season of WAC play battling for one of four spots in the conference tournament to be held at Peter Johann Memorial Field on Nov. 14-16. Once again, Air Force, Fresno State and SMU look to lead the way in conference play with the Rebels battling New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, TCU and Tulsa for the final spot.