The 2008 season marked just the third time in Pete Caringi’s 18 year tenure as head coach that UMBC soccer finished with a losing record. Plagued by injuries and drenched with inexperience, the retrievers struggled down the stretch and managed just one conference win. While the America East coaches’ poll says the team will repeat their down season with a last place finish, the team is ready to be a big surprise in 2009.
Andrew Bulls led UMBC with eight goals in his freshman year.
Led by Andrew Bulls and Levi Houapeu, the team has plenty of scoring options. Bulls lead the team with eight goals last season as a freshman and more often than not was the best player on the team, playing at a much higher level than his graduating class would indicate. Coming to UMBC, Bulls was expected to play as a midfielder or back, but midway through the season Caringi moved him to the one position that he was not expecting: forward. Though he was still learning the position he flourished in it. Now with one year of experience at forward, Bulls could become an even bigger offensive threat.
Helping Bulls out in front is expected to be Milovan Kapor, a freshman from Ontario, Canada. Caringi has stressed one thing about Kapor ever since he first scouted him: he can shoot the ball. So far in preseason practice’s Kapor has failed to disappoint and could be a threat opposite Bulls. Andy Streilein, a sophomore transfer from Delaware, adds quality depth to the position as he started 14 games with the Blue Hens as a freshman and was tied for team high with four goals. Streilein was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA and is not required to sit out a season to transfer. Matt Knight is one of three English players on the team this year and possesses great scoring ability shown by his senior season of high school where he scored 24 goals in just 10 games. Finally, if Andrew Gillis, the teams leading goal scorer in 2007, can come back from a foot injury that he suffered against Towson last season, UMBC could have one of the deepest groups of forwards in the America East.
Milovan Kapor is expected to be a big scoring threat for UMBC.
The mid-field will be seeing three “new” starters this season. Sean Rothe is the only full time returning starter from last season but John Paul Waraksa and Dustin Dzwonkowski both started multiple games last season because of injuries to Kevin Gnatiko and Shondell Busby, both of whom have since graduated. Rothe was very impressive in his first season starting and while he did not score a goal he showed great ball handling and great defense in the midfield.
Waraksa and Dzwonkowski combined for 20 starts in 2008 and should not be much of a drop off. Waraksa was second on the team with eight points last season and is a expected to play the interior midfield next to Rothe. Dzwonkowski, who was named the team’s most improved player in 2008, has shown even more improvement since last season. His passing is a lot better and he has been more aggressive and is showing he has learned how to take advantage of his 6’3” height and long legs. Ideally though, Dzwonkowski would be better suited to come in off the bench and be a fresh impact player, but the lack of depth in the midfield may force him to start unless freshman Dave Vaeth can prove something in the final weeks of their preseason.
Levi Houapeu looks to be back to form now that he is comfortable at his new position.
The final midfield spot belongs to Houapeu. The 2007 all-rookie team forward had a down sophomore campaign but was moved back to the midfield half way through the season and was still learning it. Now he looks like a natural for the position. Houapeu has unquestioned talent but the move to midfield will do a lot for him. First, as the best ball handler on the team he will get more touches and be able to make more things happen, rather than relying on the midfield to set him up. But also, as the fastest player on the team he will have more field to work with and more room to utilize his speed and agility. He has impressed the entire coaching staff so far in the preseason and if he stays on track the offense could be very potent for UMBC in 2009.
Chris Williams has been one of the top defenders for UMBC the last two seasons.
The question marks come on defense. Chris Williams is entering his third season at UMBC and with two full seasons of starting experience he is expected to be the leader of the group. His combination of size and knowledge of the game have made him a solid option at center back for Caringi so far but now he must take that step up and be the leader of the pack. Vince Savarese has had no problem being vocal and may wind up being the best defender the team has. He is not very big but he is quick and like Williams, very knowledgeable of what is going on. He has been one of the vocal leaders so far in the preseason and is a solid option at right back. The questions are with the other two positions and the goalie. Joe Green and Liam Paddock are the other two English players on the team and while they have not played bad, they have not been overly impressive. They are expected to be the other two starters on the defense but third year man Mike Gutowski may push them for their starting spots as he has shined so far in camp. But like midfield quality depth could be a slight issue.
Goalie is the biggest question mark for the team, not because they do not have capable guys for the position, but because they do not know who will be available. Dan Louisignau is the guy Caringi would like to start in goal, but he is waiting for a ruling from the NCAA on his eligibility. Louisignau transferred from Virginia because of family issues and transferring to be closer to home and is hoping for a hardship waiver and if one is granted he will be the starter and freshman Phil Saunders will be red-shirted to save him a year. Otherwise, the goalie position is up in the air between Saunders and sophomore Miguel Calderon in a battle that is said to be tied.
Even with questions about depth, the starters are good enough to lead the team to victory. The America East is now the toughest mid-major conference in collegiate soccer, ranking sixth overall, and will give them a tough challenge, but if the starters play up to their potential they could be a good team.
What really helps is their non-conference schedule. With essentially eight straight home games to start the season (two of the games are being played in Annapolis against teams that have to travel much greater distances) they could eke out some wins and build confidence before conference play starts.