Santa Clara Soccer Begins New Millenium After a Successful Decade in the 90's
Santa Clara men's soccer has established itself as one of the premier programs in the nation. With the 90's having already been crowned the most successful decade of Santa Clara men's soccer existence, the Broncos enter the new millenium sporting a 121-43-17 record, dating back to head coach Mitch Murray's inaugural season in 1991.
Last year marked the Broncos' fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament in as many years, and their second consecutive appearance in the Men's College Cup. Santa Clara also finished second in the West Coast Conference and for the ninth straight season, finished ranked in the top 25.
The 90's were definitely magical for the Santa Clara men's soccer team, and this year's young team hopes to continue the tradition of excellence that Murray and his staff have established through the past nine seasons. With the fire from last year's championship run still burning, the returning Broncos are prepared for another challenging year. Losing seven seniors to graduation, including All-Americans and current MLS players Eric Denton and Adam Eyre, only means that the 2000 team has some big shoes to fill.
Santa Clara returns 18 players from last year's squad and welcomes 13 newcomers, including 10 freshmen. Despite the youth, Murray is confident things will happen this year because of the excellent nucleus returning from last year's College Cup team. The veterans, coupled with a talented group of newcomers, will add up to a successful season and the potential for future improvement is excellent.
"It is a season of unknowns," Murray said. "There are so many possible combinations with this team after losing seven starters," Murray continued.
"The talent is there to have a great year but it depends upon how quickly the team gels and plays together."
The Broncos will get an early indicator of where they stand when they play their first five matches of the season on the road, beginning with a Sept. 1 meeting at Sacramento State. They will also compete in two tournaments before returning home to host their own adidas Classic on Sept. 21 and 23.
An October 6 road date at Gonzaga offers a good preview of what's to come in conference play this year. Murray expects an even tougher conference battle this season. Road trips to San Jose State, Stanford and Portland will be key tests for the Broncos, while fans can expect thrilling competition at Buck Shaw Stadium from a number of top-notch opponents, including UCLA, California and Loyola Marymount. Santa Clara ends its regular season at home against Loyola Marymount, who is also expected to be among the nation's best. Despite the overwhelming predominance of youth on the Santa Clara roster, Murray does have the luxury of relying on a quartet of seniors, Joe Ascolese, Brett Davis, Michael Goehring and Jeff Marinacci. All four return as veteran leaders and have helped lead Santa Clara to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including back-to-back appearances in the Men's College Cup in 1998 and '99, three upper-division WCC finishes and a top-25 finish in the national polls the past two seasons.
Ascolese eagerly awaits his return to the Bronco lineup after missing last season because of a foot injury he suffered during the preseason. Elected a co-captain of this year's squad, the attacking midfielder started in all 22 matches as a junior, recording two goals and three assists. His valuable work ethic and determination will allow him to become one of the top senior players in the country this year.
"We are tremendously excited to have Joe back with us this year," Murray commented. "He will have quite a tough task in front of him as he will not only be asked to join the attack but also get back and perform a role as a defensive midfielder," continued Murray.
Davis, who was one of only eight Bronco players to see playing time in all 23 matches last season, totaled four goals and an assist last season. He was outstanding when the game was on the line as two of his four goals were game-winners. Davis, a three-year starter, is a speedy player who gives the Broncos a dangerous attacker on overlapping runs down the right flank. "
"Brett is our playmaker. He is a key player on this team. He has the ability to score big goals and start the attack," Murray said.
"He will be the player who will see the ball a great deal in the midfield.
Goehring, who started last season injured, appearing in 13 matches, will help cover the loss of All-America defender Adam Eyre, and will contribute greatly to the success of the Bronco defense. A major factor in the Broncos' late-season run, Goehring scored three of his season's four goals in the 1999 NCAA Tournament, which ties him for the all-time Santa Clara single-post-season record.
Marinacci gives the Broncos a defensive-oriented player who stays back rather than pressing forward. Although he saw action in only one match last season, Marinacci is expected to see increased playing time in the Bronco backfield during his last season wearing the red and white.
Defender Jeff Stewart and goalkeeper Rusty Johnson headline a talented junior class, and are joined by returning starters Keith Burden, Justin Canel and Anthony Chimienti. Stewart, a co-captain on this year's squad, earned second team All-West Coast Conference honors a year ago, and returns as one of the top defenders in the conference. One of only three Broncos to start in all 23 matches last season, the Washington native was a stalwart on one of the top defensive units in school history. He helped Santa Clara to post 11 shutouts and a 0.69 GAA in 1999, and 21 blankings and a 0.71 mark during the last two campaigns.
"Jeff, in my opinion, is a professional-caliber type of player," Murray said.
"He possesses tremendous concentration, is a great competitor, an outstanding tackler and organizes the defense very well. He is going to be the key to anchoring the defense for us this year."
The 6-0 Johnson had an outstanding sophomore campaign after playing in only one match as a freshman. A first team All-West Coast Conference performer last season, Johnson finished the 1999 season ranked 14th nationally in goals-against average (0.73). He established a Santa Clara record for consecutive shutout minutes, blanking opponents in the first six matches and 526:55 of the season. A physical keeper capable of making outstanding saves, Johnson is so valuable as he allows his opponents very few second chances.
"Rusty had a phenomenal year for us last year," Murray said. "What impressed me the most was he maintained his consistency throughout the year. He allowed very few second chances to our opponents." Burden, a defender from Niwot, Colo., provides quickness and size in the Bronco backfield. A converted defender who used to play up front has started in 43 of the 45 matches he has played in, and brings exceptional experience to a young Bronco defense. Burden is a dual threat to opponents, creating havoc on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field. Last season he tallied three goals and three assists with all three goals being game-winners. He was named Defensive MVP of the Clemson Invitational and also earned a spot on Soccer America's Team of the Week after scoring the game-winning goal with just 12 seconds remaining in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Clemson.
Canel, who is projected to start at the defensive midfield position for the Broncos, appeared and started in 19 matches as a sophomore. He charted one goal while totaling two assists in first season as a starter. The California native is the latest Santa Clara soccer player to utilize the flip-throw restarts and can hurl the ball up to 50 yards with the somersault throw. In fact, Canel was responsible for Santa Clara's lone goal in a 1-1 tie with WCC rival Saint Mary's as his flip-throw ricocheted off a Gael defender and into the goal for an own goal.
"Justin stepped in and had a solid sophomore year. He really matured after his freshman year," said Murray. "If he continues to improve at this rate, he could become a dynamic and dominating midfielder." The leading scorer on last year's squad, Chimienti will be looked upon as an integral part of the Bronco attack up front. An honorable mention All-West Coast Conference selection as a sophomore, the San Jose native scored a team-high nine goals and added five assists for a team-high 23 points, becoming just the fourth Bronco in the last five seasons to post 20 or more points in a single-season. A quick and dangerous goal scorer, Chimienti earned Offensive MVP of the Clemson Invitational, scoring the game-tying goal in the 87th minute and assisting teammate Keith Burden on the game-winner with 12 seconds remaining against the Tigers.
Goalkeeper Kevin Mehrens and midfielder Burke Ewers round out the returning list upperclassmen. Mehrens showed great promise in the six matches played in as a sophomore, recording a 0.00 goals-against average in 88:43 minutes between the pipes. He did not have to make a save in the six matches. He will compete with Johnson for playing time in the net. Ewers, who saw action in eight matches as a sophomore, provides depth at both flank positions where he can utilize his speed and dribbling ability to beat outside defenders.
Sophomores Stephen Biondolillo, Michael Leonard, Scott McLain and Steve Millward, and redshirt freshmen Chris Morrill, Thomas Neptune and Claudio Storelli round out the list of returning players for the Broncos. McLain, a midfielder from Irvine, Calif., saw a great deal of playing time last season as a rookie. He appeared in 20 matches, scoring one goal. He can cover a lot of ground and can create many opportunities for both himself and his teammates because of his mobility.
Biondolillo, Leonard and Millward each saw limited playing time as freshmen, playing behind a talented corps of upperclassmen. Each will add depth to the Bronco lineup this season. Morrill, Neptune and Storelli return after redshirting during their freshman campaign. Morrill and Storelli, both goalkeepers, learned a great deal from Johnson and Mehrens last season, and should see playing time this season. Neptune will also compete for playing time in a talented Bronco midfield. A trio of transfers joins 10 incoming freshmen on this year's Bronco squad. Junior Tony Cota and sophomores Kirk Fonseca and Jamil Walker bring a wealth of experience to the team. Cota, a midfielder, has played the last two seasons at Saint Mary's. He played in all 19 matches last season, earning the starting nod in 12, totaling six points after scoring two goals and tallying two assists.
Fonseca comes to Santa Clara after playing his freshman campaign at San Diego State. A proven forward, Fonseca is a dangerous goal scorer and is expected to make an immediate impact on the Bronco team. He has tremendous experience at the club level, playing 13 years for the Claremont Stars who won the Far West Regional national championship two consecutive years. Walker reunites with his brother Rahim, a freshman on this year's team, after playing one year at the United States Air Force Academy. Murray will rely on Walker's speed to replace former Bronco Ari Rodopoulos in the back. The New York native gained valuable playing experience as a freshman at Air Force, appearing in 10 of the Falcons' 19 matches, and starting in seven. He scored three goals and added an assist with all seven points coming at the hands of Oregon State.
The Santa Clara backline was strengthened with the addition of incoming freshmen Audren Cashman and Ryan Purtell. Both should challenge for playing time in a young Bronco backline.
Adding firepower to an already experienced and talented Santa Clara midfield are newcomers Santigie Fofana-Dura, Akil Foderingham, Kellen Gilmore and Jeff Tunison. Fofana-Dura can also play in the back.
Freshmen Nick Ascolese, Philip Johnson, Matt Upton and Rahim Walker bring much-needed depth to a Bronco front line that lost three veteran players from a year ago. Ascolese also reunites with his brother Joe who is a senior captain on this year's team.
Despite the leadership of the 2000 senior class, just how well the Broncos come together as a team and improve throughout the course of the year will depend mostly on the development of the underclassmen. It is a team loaded with talent and heart that will keep Program 90's on track and headed to a brand new decade.