By Michael Zipf
Last season, the men’s soccer team headed into the ’06 season with high expectations; however, the ‘Cats were plagued by missed opportunities and key injuries that prevented them from qualifying for the Big East tournament. After gaining a year of experience, the ’07 Wildcats seem poised to build up and improve their 6-10-1 mark from last season. Returning 10 starters, the Wildcats will possess the seasoned veterans that the team lacked at times in 2006.
A key contributor to the Wildcats’ success will be red-shirt junior Danny DeMasters, who returned to the Wildcat lineup last year after missing the entire ’05 season with a torn ACL. When he was in the lineup the Wildcats showed flashes of brilliance with DeMasters and junior Joe Taylor effectively maneuvering through defenses with deft ball skills, providing great scoring chances. However, throughout the season, DeMasters continued to be plagued with injuries that prevented him and the team from being at full strength. As a result, much of the offensive burden fell on Taylor, a clever ball distributor with a solid shot, who registered two goals and three assists last season. Taylor handled the pressure well and was widely considered one of Villanova’s best players, but the ‘Cats still missed the one-two punch that Coach Larry Sullivan planned to utilize in their attack.
Returning to the field with more experience and a clearer frame of mind, the Wildcats seem poised to begin a new chapter. In a recent interview with Villanova.com, Sullivan said, “I think [DeMaster’s absence] affected us more psychologically than it did it in actuality. We weren’t convinced we could win without him.” With DeMasters able to rest this offseason, recuperate from his injuries and regain his speed and agility that made him such a dangerous player, the Wildcats carry a new mentality. “I have talked to the team leadership and have suggested that we get a new concept of who we are,” Sullivan said. “With Danny or without Danny, we have to succeed. Now I think we have a better chance with him, but we have to find a way regardless.”
This season, the Wildcats should possess a more potent offense with a plethora of gifted offensive players at Sullivan’s disposal. The forward position, which is commanded by sophomore Mike Seamon, is critical to the Wildcats’ success. Seamon, who led the team in scoring as a freshman, is joined by returning starter senior Mike Del Guercio, junior Dan McKenna and senior Billy Whiteside to create a formidable frontline. Freshmen Anthony Griffith and Sean Mergenthal will provide additional offensive firepower. The midfield position, which will be anchored by DeMasters and Taylor, will also receive support from juniors Miles Harrison and Adam Brazitis and sophomores Victor Faustino and Philip Dillon. Senior center back Matt Sleece, who played hurt last year, will captain the defense. Seniors Neil McNulty and Chris Quinn will team with Sleece to provide the Wildcats with a senior-laden backfield and veteran leadership.
Although the Wildcats face a difficult Big East schedule and challenging matchups against top-tier programs such as Duke, North Carolina and Maryland, the Wildcats seemed poised for a breakout season. This year’s team possesses a wealth of talent and, most importantly, senior leadership and experienced players, which the team lacked last season. Ultimately, this year’s team looks ready to capitalize on the missed opportunities from last year and make its mark in Villanova history.