August 28, 2008

2008 Season Preview: Bulldogs Busy Preparing For Sept. 7 Opener

Aug. 28, 2008

The 2007 season proved to be a valuable learning experience for a young Yale men's soccer team. The Bulldogs faced seven teams that went on to reach the NCAA College Cup, including playing a scoreless tie with then fifth-ranked Boston College. In 2008, Yale hopes to reap the benefits of the knowledge gained last year and return to its familiar perch in the upper echelon of the Ivy League standings.

"I have a lot of faith in our youngsters and believe that last year's challenges and experiences made them smarter and better prepared for the upcoming season," said Yale head coach Brian Tompkins. "Acorns do not become oaks overnight and the same is true with soccer players. I look forward to seeing them flourish this year."

Nine starters and 16 letterwinners return from last year's team that went 4-8-5 overall and 2-3-2 in Ivy League play. The Bulldogs started practice last Friday and play their season opener on Sept. 7 against Maine at 1 p.m. at Reese Stadium.

"The players have shown a tremendous desire to ensure that their results be consistent with their abilities," Tompkins said. "We have skilled players with good speed and athleticism and they are eager to prove themselves."

Defense figures to be a strength. Senior defender Alex Guzinski, the team captain, has started 46 games in his career, the most of anyone on the roster. He was a second team All-Ivy selection last fall. Three other seniors return to the back line. Markus Jackson, who was limited to 14 games by injury last year, and Max Rhodes have been regular starters for much of their careers. Frank Piasta burst onto the scene last year, earning the team's most improved player award after starting all 17 games. He had appeared in only four games in his first two years.

Junior Jordan Raybould was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last fall after starting 16 games and should be a major contributor to the backline as well. Junior Justin Song has appeared in 21 games in his career, while junior Casey Logan, who appeared in eight games off the bench last year, is currently battling an injury

Two freshmen hope to contribute immediately to the defense as well. Marcus DiLallo was the 2008 Palm Beach County Player of the Year at Wellington High School, and Joseph Mensah was a three-year letterwinner at Phillips Academy.

The position hardest hit by graduation was goalkeeper. Erik Geiger (15 starts) and Dwayne Whylly have both moved on. Junior Travis Chulick, who worked very hard in the offseason, is the leading candidate to start. He has appeared in two games and has yet to allow a goal. Freshman Matt Chesky also will compete for playing time. He posted 13 shutouts in his last two seasons at Deerfield Academy.

The Bulldogs have a talented group at midfield. Senior Tyler Guse has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons, but when healthy is a tremendously gifted player. He was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection as a rookie in 2005. Senior Alex Afsahi has shown tremendous improvement in his last two years.

Four sophomores -- Andy Shorten, Eric Meyer, Sebastian Serra and Dale Peterson - combined to appear in 58 games last fall. Meyer made 14 starts, the most of any rookie.

The Bulldogs also will be bolstered by the return of Jon Carlos, who took a leave of absence last year. Carlos was fourth on the team in goals (2) and points (6) in 2006. Senior Sam Post and sophomore Sam Miles have joined the team this year as well.

Freshman Andy Hackbarth could contribute right away at midfield. He was captain of the Far West Regional Olympic Development team. Three other freshmen hope to make an immediate impact either in the midfield or at forward. Sam Bekenstein was three-time Dual County League all-star at Wayland High School in Massachusetts. Chris Dennen is Bronxville (NY) High School's all-time assists leader with 66 and Charlie Neil holds the St. Mark's School of Texas career goals record with 76.

Senior Liam Leonard will help anchor Yale's front line. He has appeared in 50 games during his career and is capable of taking on several roles. Junior Kevin Pope had a breakthrough season last fall, leading the team in goals (4) and points (9). Two sophomores will benefit from a year of experience. Brad Rose tied for the team lead in assists (2) and was second in points (6), while Aden Farina-Henry tied for second on the team in goals (2).

Freshman Charlie Paris should be a scoring threat as well. He had 19 goals as a senior at Santa Monica (CA) High School.

Tompkins has once again put together a challenging schedule, including games against the defending champions of two of the top conferences in the nation. The Bulldogs host ACC champion Boston College on Oct. 14 at Reese Stadium at 7 p.m. and play at UConn, which captured the 2007 Big East title, on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. In all, Yale will face five teams that reached last year's NCAA College Cup.

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Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity