2011 WWU Men's Soccer Preview:
Aug. 18, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - One of the axioms of soccer is that the difference between success and failure often lies in control of the midfield.
Given that, there's certainly reason for optimism around the Western Washington University men's soccer team this season. The Vikings return five starters, including four of their top five scorers, from a 10-6-2 team for coach Travis Connell (13th year, 112-104-14), and the greatest strength of those returnees is a deep and talented midfield.
At the heart of that midfield are seniors Kellan Brown (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep) and Oscar Jimenez (Mount Vernon). Both have started every game the last two years and are coming off outstanding junior seasons.
Brown was an honorable mention Daktronics NCAA Division II all-American last season, scoring seven goals and having six assists, splitting his time between midfield and forward. He also was a first-team all-West Region selection and a unanimous first-team all-GNAC pick. For his career, he has 20 goals and 13 assists, both ranking seventh in school history.
Jimenez was also a first-team all-region and unanimous all-GNAC pick last year, notching four goals and seven assists. He has 15 goals and 17 assists in his career, the latter number being third in Western history and just five short of the school record.
Brown and Jimenez figure to anchor the central midfield, but there's also experienced talent in the wide spots. Senior Tyler Bjork (Kirkland/Juanita) has 10 career goals, four of them game-winners, and junior Jin Dangvan (Vancouver/Mountain View) had a breakout sophomore season, notching four goals and six assists.
"The midfield is the strength of our team," said Connell. "Oscar and Kellan are very important to what we do. They bring a ton of experience, as does Tyler. You can see that in what they did in the off-season. And Jin turned a corner last season as well."
There's also depth in the midfield. Sophomore Steven Hughes (Vancouver/Coumbia River) is the primary backup in the central midfield, and redshirt freshman Caden Sowers (Ferndale) and freshman Matt Sanchez (Bellingham), who Connell says may be the team's best crosser, figure into the wide spots.
At forward, senior Keith Ferris (Richland), who has played much of his career in the midfield, is the most experienced Viking, entering his fifth year in the program. Sophomore Andrew Weishaar (Puyallup) provides Western's one true target player and is also an excellent finisher, having six goals and three assists last year. Sophomore Tye Hastings (Mill Creek/Jackson) is also a candidate to start up front.
The area where the most change is likely is on defense. The most experience is at the outside spots. Junior Justin Moore (Port Orchard/South Kitsap) returns after starting 16 games at right back last season, and senior Sean Connor (Mount Vernon) has made 24 career starts, although none last season, and can play either side. Freshman Pat Cole (Bellingham/Sehome) adds additional depth.
At center back, junior Bryan Hall (Tacoma/Stadium) started a dozen games last season. Sophomore Dean Byron (Renton/Liberty) also returns. Connell is also high on two newcomers - freshman Aaron Becerril (Woodinville) and senior Jake Jorgensen (Bellingham/Meridian). Jorgensen, who played three years at Trinity Western, may miss the early part of the year with an ankle injury.
Sophomore goalkeeper Leo Cohen (Seattle/Roosevelt) grabbed the starting job late last season, posting a 6-1 record in seven starts with four shutouts and a 1.08 goals-against-average. He'll be challenged by freshman Keegan Rogers (Portland, OR/Portland Christian).
"The back is an area we need to improve," said Connell. "It's a challenge - we have to find the right center back pairing, the right goalkeeper. We need to figure out who plays the most efficiently together, but we have the potential to make it a strength."
The Vikings were 5-4-1 in the GNAC last season. There is no automatic berth into the NCAA Division II National Tournament for the conference champion, but doing well in the GNAC remains critical to gaining a spot as do early-season games with other West Region schools. The Vikings open with one of those contests Sept. 3, hosting Chico State, a post-season participant a year ago.
"In the GNAC, Simon Fraser is still the dominant team," Connell said. "For us, we need to beat the teams that finished below us. We lost some of those games last year and it hurt us. If we can win those winnable games, I'm confident we can compete in the big games."
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