2013 WWU Men's Soccer Preview
Aug 18, 2013
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - There's a new head coach of the Western Washington University men's soccer team, but he's hardly a new face.
Greg Brisbon, the top assistant in the program for 12 of the last 13 years, including eight as the associate head coach, now becomes the head coach.He replaces Travis Connell, who will concentrate solely on leading the Viking women's squad.
"I'm excited," said Brisbon, who holds a United States Soccer Federation "A" level coaching license. "It is different in that I'm making the decisions now, from every little thing to every big thing. There isn't going to be a whole lot of change, I just want to adapt and keep getting better."
He takes over a team that returns a number of key performers from last year's 8-8-2 squad that posted a 6-6-1 mark in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. Seven starters are among the 17 returning letter winners, giving the Vikings excellent depth.
"Usually there's a gap between the 15th and 25th players on the squad," said Brisbon. "That gap is really small on this team. All of our guys are capable of contributing in matches."
Leading the returnees is senior forward Andrew Weishaar (Puyallup), a second-team all-GNAC pick last year.
Weishaar, a physical 6-foot-1 target forward, tied for the team lead with seven goals in 2012 and added three assists for a team-high 17 points. He has 16 career goals, 12th in school history, with four of them being game-winners.
"Andrew has the potential to be our best all-around player, and he's improved over last year," said Brisbon. "He understands his role, he uses his body to get position well, he's able to get into the gaps, and he passes and finishes well."
A number of players could fill the wide spots in WWU's 1-4-2-3-1 system. Among the returnees there are sophomore Leonard Kusina (Fairbault, MN/Shattuck St. Mary's), who had one goal last year, and junior Caden Sowers (Ferndale).
Just behind the front line at attacking midfield is sophomore Austin Curtis (Bonney Lake), who had three goals last season, two of them in a 2-1 victory over then No.11-ranked Seattle Pacific. Junior Tye Hastings (Mill Creek/Jackson) also returns after missing last season with an injury. Hastings had three goals in 2011.
In the holding midfield spots, sophomore Uche Ugwoaba (Burien/Highline) and junior Gabriele Zaccagnini (Olympia/Capital) both return after each starting all 18 games last season. Zaccagnini had a goal and an assist, Ugwoaba had one assist and earned honorable mention all-GNAC recognition.
The backline is anchored by senior center back Bailey Martin (Tacoma/Stadium), who made 15 starts a year ago.
"Bailey is a great leader," Brisbon said. "He takes pride in being a Viking soccer player and tries to teach guys all the little things."
Sophomore Kurtis Pederson (Puyallup/Bellarmine Prep), who also started 15 games a year ago, could be the other center back, but might also see time in the midfield, and junior Pat Cole (Bellingham/Sehome), who made 13 starts in 2012, is the incumbent at left back. A number of other players could factor in along the back, including senior Dean Byron (Renton/Liberty), who has 28 starts in the last two seasons.
There's great depth at goalkeeper, with a three-way battle for the starting spot. Junior Keegan Rogers (Portland, OR/Portland Christian) started every game last season, posting a 1.29 goals against average and five shutouts to earn all-GNAC honorable mention. Senior Leo Cohen (Seattle/Roosevelt), who redshirted last year, has made 13 career starts and has four shutouts. Redshirt freshman Nico Terenjtev (Mercer Island) is also in contention.
"It's close between all three of them," Brisbon said. "It's really just a matter of who comes in ready to go. I feel comfortable playing any of them."
The Vikings open the season with a bang, travelling to Colorado for games with Metro State and Colorado Christian, then returning home to meet Notre Dame de Namur and Hawaii Pacific in West Region battles before opening the GNAC schedule at Northwest Nazarene on Sept. 19. The Vikings would likely need a series of good results in the non-conference games to have a reasonable chance of reaching the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
"The first four games, as always, are crucial, and there isn't an easy opponent in the four," Brisbon said. "We didn't do well on the road last year, we gave some results away. That's something we want to improve."
Road success, beating inferior clubs key to Western men's soccer season
Western Washington University senior center back Bailey Martin still remembers the "sour taste" a mid-season pair of road losses in North and South Dakota left the men's soccer club with last year.
Ten months later, the sting continues to linger.Martin and new Vikings head coach Greg Brisbon concisely pointed to the root of 2012's 8-8-2 finish and fifth place 6-6-2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference record. WWU didn't play well enough of the road, and they couldn't capitalize against inferior opponents.
"We need to win the games we should win," Brisbon said. "We gave up three-to-four games away last year, where we would have been in the hunt."
Those two losses Martin spoke of - a 2-1 defeat against the University of Mary in North Dakota and a 3-1 defeat to the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota - typified Western's season. The Vikings finished 3-6 on the road and suffered five one-goal losses. They outscored opponents 16-6 in the first half but gave up 17 second-half goals while scoring 12 themselves. Further, Western was 3-2-1 against the three worst teams in the GNAC.
Maintain first-half play, win on the road and beat less-skilled teams and WWU's season would have played out much differently.
But a strong offseason coupled with seven returning starters and 17 letter winners has Western thinking they can overcome those issues this year.
It starts at the top with Brisbon, who took over the men's program this offseason after serving as associate head coach the last eight years. He plans to continue promoting WWU's signature blue-collar style while amplifying the importance of team defense from the top third all the way to the back line."We've really worked on our defensive pressure," he said. "That's where everything starts. Defense will be No. 1. Everything starts with defense."
Martin, one of the Vikings' four seniors, gives Brisbon an experience defender to anchor the back third. Kurtis Pederson, former Sehome High standout Pat Cole, Dean Byron and Troy McCarty are expected to play quality minutes alongside Martin. Goalkeeping trio Leo Cohen, Keegan Rogers and Nico Terentjev provides Brisbon a slew of strong options in goal.
It's not raw ability that will carry Western's defense, Martin said, rather it will be sheer determination.
"I think we've always been a blue-collar team," at least in my four years," Martin said. "That has kind of been our thing, to just out work the other team. Maybe we're not the most skilled or the best team out there, but I think, especially this year, our key to success is to just out work the opponent, and I think Bris is going to really encourage that."
The season is particularly special for Martin.
Following limited playing time his freshman year, he felt he took a step back as a sophomore, but last season marked a breakout year for the central defender. He started nearly every game and saw action in all 18 matches, serving as a key piece within Western's defense.
"One of the things I'm proud of is I did play in every single game last year," he said. "That was kind of a big deal for me, especially coming off my sophomore season. I played minimal amounts. I worked really hard my sophomore summer between my junior year to be fit and be ready to help in anyway. It did play off, and now I'm feeling good. I'm a senior, and I'm feeling like one of the older guys on the team."
This season gives Martin a final chance to leave a lasting imprint on the soccer program.
Fellow senior Andrew Weishaar has already distinguished himself as one of the more prolific goal scorers to don a Western uniform, and he will undoubtedly be a big reason why, or why Vikings don't, put together the season they believe is possible. The goal? Brisbon thinks a GNAC title is attainable.
Weishaar, who scored seven goals last year, is Western's returning leading goal scorer and will be counted on heavily to produce up top. Brisbon knows his senior attacker has all the tools to score with regularity.
In fact, the new WWU head coach billed Weishaar "one of the best forwards I've seen since I've been here."
"Sky is the limit," Brisbon said of Weishaar. "He could be (GNAC) Player of the Year. He has that potential."
Sophomore Uche Ugwoaba and junior Gabriele Zaccagnini are slated to see action in Western's holding midfield positions, and the two are part of an extremely deep team Brisbon and Martin said, top to bottom, is ultra competitive.
"You can see our depth as a team," Martin said. "We will probably have a starting 11, and then have the next set of bench players that are able to come in and make a real difference, and I think that creates a lot of good healthy competition amongst everyone."
Western will get the chance to quickly put those haunting road woes to rest. It opens the regular season against Metro State at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, in Denver, Colo.
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