This year's Terrier men's soccer team faces a new role as it enters the millennium.
They have been the top dog. Now, they are the under dog.
In a couple of brief sentences that tells where the Terrier men's soccer team has been in the past and what it has to look forward to in the present. The future remains the question.
Since Neil Roberts took over the head coaching responsibilities a decade and a half ago, the Terrier soccer fortunes have remained at an enviable level. Since 1985, the teams have compiled an overall record of 193-74-39 for a .694 winning percentage. During this span, no team has had a losing record and only twice has a team won less than 10 games.
Nowhere has the dominance been felt more than in its America East conference. In the 12-year history of the league, the Terriers have compiled an overall record of 66-13-9 for an .801 winning percentage. In post-season play, they have appeared in seven of the league's 11 tournament finals and won an unprecedented five straight from 1993-97.
It could all be different as the Terriers head into the new millennium.
"We will be starting fresh this year," commented Roberts. "We could have as many as 10 new players this season, and maybe this is a perfect time to start fresh."
The coach can point to last year as the reason to start anew.
Last season, the Terriers won just eight games, their lowest win total under Roberts. In the meantime, they lost six times and tied five times, which also marked a high water mark under Roberts.
Even more uncharacteristic was the team's 4-3-2 record in the league, as the Terriers missed qualifying for the America East tournament for the first time ever.
The Terriers played excellent defense as they allowed just 23 goals in 19 games. However, they had problems putting the ball in the back of the net, as they had 29 goals, 14 of which were scored by one man-Kirk Miller.
Perhaps it is fitting then that the Terriers sport a new look for the coming year as they transform from top dog to under dog.
"This happened once before since I have been here," recalled the coach. "After having excellent back-to-back years in 1985 and 1986, we went into the 1987 season with nine starters lost through graduation."
The result was a 9-7-4 mark after compiling marks of 14-4-1 and 16-2-3 in 1985 and 1986, respectively.
The new look of 1987 led to a stretch in which Terrier teams won 10 or more games 11 straight years.
"We need our young kids to come in and push the returning veterans," said the coach. "In fact, we will be looking to some of the freshmen to come in and start, while others will provide key backup depth."
Here is look at those freshmen and the upperclassmen they will be pushing.
This could be the team's strength this year with the return of sophomore Matt Smith, who led America East last year in minutes played with almost 1834, while he was second in the conference in save percentage with an 0.97. In 18 games, he posted five shutouts, while he gave up just one goal nine times.
One of his strongest performances during the year came in a 0-0 double overtime tie against Creighton, a team that was ranked number one in the nation entering the match. Smith had a season-high seven saves and was named the conference's Rookie of the Week.
Smith will be pushed for playing time by sophomore Mike Cardenas, who transferred from Providence College. A year ago, Cardenas posted a 3-2-1 record along with a 1.57 goals against average and a .758 save percentage for the Friars.
The third candidate is Duncan Kirkpatrick, who could be a victim of the numbers game but showed during his scholastic career in Texas that he could be an excellent keeper for the Terriers.
"This year, we could be as strong as we have ever been in the net," predicted Roberts. "I can't remember having this type of depth where we will be entering a season with two players who have Division 1 experience.
"Going into the pre-season, Smitty will be our starting goalie," offered Roberts. "He has all the tools to be a tremendous keeper. He has a great mind, terrific quickness, and outstanding technical ability with feet.
"All he is missing is discipline," said the coach. "That will come with time. "There is no question that he has a career in soccer after he graduates."
Roberts expressed equal confidence in Cardenas' ability to play in net should Smith falter.
"I would have no qualms at all in playing Mike," said the coach. "He showed at Providence last year that he has the ability to play at this level. Plus, he is always working hard to improve. In fact, he trained in Czechoslovakia this past summer.
"Duncan is only a freshman and might not see much playing time this year, but, in time, he will be a very good keeper," summed up Roberts.
"This is going to be a great problem to have," concluded the coach.
There are two main questions here.
The first is who will replace four-year starter and three-time All-Conference sweeper Brian Devenney. Devenney, who will try to impart his playing knowledge on the Terriers this season as a volunteer assistant coach, was the MVP of last year's team. What will be impossible to replace is Devenney's experience as he started 79 of 80 games during this collegiate career.
The second question is how will junior Joachim Kaland, a two-year starter at forward where he has 12 goals and 8 assists for 32 points in 34 games, adjust to playing back on defense.
"When we trained last year, Joachim was our second-best defender," said Roberts. "The only better defender was Devenney.
"Joachim is quick, is a hard tackler, and is good in the air," said the coach. "He is very athletic, and that's the type of player we need back there.
"He will be the center of our defense," predicted Roberts. "And, if need be, we can get him forward to be involved with the offense.
"I think when you consider all his qualities, Joachim could be one of the best defenders in our league," said the coach.
While Devenney represents the biggest loss on defense, the Terriers must also replace Matt McManus and Eric Westgate.
The most seasoned returnee is junior Eric Manfoumbi, who was one of just five Terriers who started all 19 games last season.
"We are counting on Eric to have a good year for us," said Roberts. "We just need for him to cut down on his mistakes and be a quality player.
The other returning lettermen who will be vying for playing time are senior Mark Lowyns, who "had a very good spring season for us," according to Roberts; sophomore David Fahey, who "started a few games last season and showed he has good technique to play the position; senior Ikey Umeh, "who has good technique," and Filippo Bozotti, "who is a good sized kid who will be fighting for playing time."
It would not be surprising to see freshman Michael Feely to move into the starting lineup early in the season.
Feely played on England's under-18 national schoolboy team the past two years and was a teammate of Terrier goalie Matt Smith on the 1998 team. An outstanding all-around athlete, he was on England's under-18 national basketball team that played at the World Championship's.
"We think Mike can play right off the bat for us," said Roberts. "He is left-footed, a good ball winner, and is very athletic."
The center midfield looks strong, but there are questions on the flanks.
Senior co-captains Kirk Miller and Chris Bone will join with sophomore Anthony D'Angelo "that will form a good solid group in the center of the field," according to Roberts.
Miller was one of the pleasant surprises for the Terriers last year. A transfer from the University of Maryland, he finished third in the Conference in goals as he earned All-Conference and All-New England honors.
"Kirk proved to be a better goal scorer than I thought he would be," said Roberts. "This year, he will have the freedom to move around a lot more, and we expect he will be the key to our attack. However, we want him to raise his playmaking ability.
"Chris has gotten more athletic during his career," Roberts said of Bone. "He is an excellent passer and is good at winning balls. Last season, he led the team in assists. This year, we would like to see him score more.
"Anthony was the only freshman to start all 19 games last year, and he showed that he can be a good defender and can cover well from the center of the midfield.
"Center midfield is a key to any team, and I am very excited about how we will look here."
The questions are on the flank where sophomore Mark Lynch and Fahey are the only lettermen returning. Lynch played in just four games last year but "had a good spring and started to develop," while Fahey might be needed at back.
The answer could come from the incoming class.
The top prospects include Holger Vikdal, who is listed as a sophomore but will be making his collegiate debut after spending last year at Bergen University in Norway. Vikdal also spent the past two years in the Norwegian Army.
Another European product is freshman Alan McNamara, who was on the Irish under-18 youth team and was the youth player of the year last season for the Galway United Football Club.
A third prospect is freshman Karl Ruegemer, who accounted for 30 goals and 24 assists during his three-year scholastic career at Minnetonka (MN) High School.
The Terriers must replace the scoring talents of Sigurd Dalen, who finished his career with 33 goals and 29 assists for 95 points. A year ago, he sustained a sprained ankle in the team's third game of the year, and it hampered him throughout the season. Although he finished the season with 2 goals and 7 assists, he was a constant offensive threat as he leaves as the Terriers' fourth all-time leading point producer and fifth all-time leading goal scorer.
"If we fall behind, we have the option of moving Joachim up front," said Roberts. "Plus, Kirk will be a major part of our attack. We also have E.A Carr, who saw some action last year."
The key here could be the development of freshman Mark Richardson.
"He is a legitimate target man for us," said Roberts. "He has the ability to turn and shoot and could be a real offensive threat for us.
"We will be young here with some new faces," summed up the coach.
"I think that Hartford will be the team to beat," Roberts said of the battle in America East. "They won it last year, and most of their players will be returning.
"I think we are just going to be another team this year. It will be different than it has been over the years in that we are going to be looking up and trying to catch all the other teams instead of our being on top and everyone trying to catch us.
"I think we could finish in the middle of the pack."
"I am really excited about this season," concluded Roberts. "I think we are going to be more athletic than we were last year.
"I also like the attitude I saw in the spring. I think everyone has been disappointed with what has happened the past two years.
"Two years ago, after winning five straight league post-season titles, we lost in the semifinals of the America East tournament. Then, last year, we didn't even make it to the tournament.
"The kids worked very hard since the end of last season, and you could see this attitude particularly in the spring.
"I think this work ethic will help our new class to get off in the right direction. "And, I think this is going to be a real good freshman class. There is both quality and quantity and that's important considering our situation."
That situation is his team will be an under dog entering this season.
His team may begin the season as such, but he does not want it to end that way.