Getting back on the ball

When a team wins four games in a season, it’s not normally an improvement. But for the BGSU men’s soccer team, last year’s 4-13-2 record was a tremendous improvement.

After a frustrating, winless 2004, the team was able to beat No. 11 Ohio State and ride the victory to wins over St. Mary’s, Cleveland State and IPFW.

The wins put the Falcons on the NCAA’s Most Improved list, which is a point of pride for the team.

“Obviously we were proud to make the list last year and have made it our goal to be featured on it once again,” said coach Fred Thompson. “The freshmen should help us with that immediately; they were brought in for that reason. In addition, we feel that the improvement that the returning players have made from last preseason to this preseason will show a marked improvement as a team.”

The Falcons begin their regular season schedule at 4 p.m. Friday against Western Illinois to kick off the BGSU Invitational.

Thompson, in his third year, earned his first win as the Falcons’ coach against the Buckeyes in a double overtime nail-biter at Cochrane Field.

Last year’s team included 10 rookies, six of whom started. This year, the Falcons will have 13 rookies, including four who are expected to start alongside five sophomores and two juniors.

“We’ve made an effort to go out there and get some kids that will give us some depth and perhaps may start in the backfield,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be an interesting contest to see who can physically keep up with his man and who can play enough soccer to keep the position. That’s going to be a really interesting battle.”

The two juniors are most likely scoring threats for the Falcons. Abiola Sandy has high expectations to be the Falcons go-to player. Another offensive weapon for the team will be Justin Kim, a sophomore who scored two goals last season and assisted on four more.

The Falcons lost three key players to graduation this past offseason. One in particular was Omari Aldridge, who scored 11 goals last season along with three assists. Aldridge took 61 shots out of the 208 the Falcons took as a team. Those numbers made him the primary offensive outlet for BG.

One thing that may worry the team is there are no seniors. While this is good because the team is not destined to lose anyone, it could turn out negative as the team may lack the necessary leadership.

Defense will be a major emphasis for the Falcons this season as the offense looks to find its feet. In their two exhibition games, the Falcons were unable to score a goal. They fell 3-0 to Xavier and 2-0 to Dayton on Sunday.

The defensive group will be led by goalie Paul Shoemaker, who has started in 16 matches in his career. Shoemaker recorded 80 saves with 32 goals against while capturing all four of the Falcons’ wins and both of their ties.

“Paul got the majority of the starts last year and did very well for us,” Thompson said. “He’s a young goalkeeper and was bound to make mistakes. He made some but he learned from them. He’s worked hard and we expect him to come into preseason prepared.”

BG opens its season this Friday at home when they take on Western Illinois in the BG Invitational. The Falcons will then play Eastern Illinois, once again at home, on Sunday.