With just four players who are upperclassmen, many might think the Belmont Abbey men's soccer team is in a rebuilding phase.
Head coach Stuart Brown does not believe that.
“This is probably the most talented team I've had,” said Brown, in his fifth year as the Crusaders head coach. “We are young, but the guys have a lot of confidence and so does the staff.”
The Crusaders are coming off a 2008 season that saw them go 9-10-3 overall, with their last five losses all coming by one goal.
As the team pushes toward its season opener at King College (Tennessee) on Sept. 3, Brown has 16 freshmen, most of whom had stellar high school and club careers. But there are a few returners to help the newcomers adjust to NCAA competition.
Three of those returners missed a large part of the 2008 season due to injury and look to be ready for 2009. Senior Emmanual Yamson played in just 12 games, but the 6-foot forward from Silver Spring, Md., will be one of the Crusaders' top scoring threats.
“He can change the game,” Brown said. “He's dynamic and has the technical ability to be able to score two or three goals per game, if the opportunities present themselves.”
Senior Alexis Aguirre played only two more games than Yamson last year, and the former junior college all-American at Cape Fear Community College will be asked to help control the midfield and create scoring opportunities for the offense. Helping Aguirre will be sophomore Jack Reid of Nottingham, England, who started all 14 games that he was healthy enough to play in last season.
Defense was the Crusaders' strength last season, as they had a goals against average of 1.04, with nine shutouts. It is an area that could be strength again, but some preseason injuries have caused concern.
Sophomore Ben Vangucci – at 6 feet, 3 inches – is a physical presence who, according to Brown, has the capability to be an all-American. But the native of Wales is out until probably mid-September with a broken foot. So others will have to step up.
Sophomore John Dandanell and freshman Jared Britt are talented players who will be counted on, and sophomore Aaron Weldon can play both defense and midfield.
In goal, Brown has not settled on a starter, as junior Louis Liberatore, sophomore Brandon Alvarez and freshmen John Max Bolling and Jordan Junot are all vying for the nod.
With the young group, Brown said, he finds himself doing much more teaching and instructing during practices, but says his team has been receptive, and the team's goals remain the same.
“We have some dynamic players, most who came here from high-level programs. Our nonconference schedule is difficult and should prepare us for the conference race. I also think some of our preseason injuries will help us because we'll be deeper, and you need that to compete for a conference title and an NCAA berth.”