Men’s soccer prepares for big year

Andrew Whalen

For the Villanova men’s soccer team, the games can’t come quickly enough. The team is hungry but remains well poised. Coaches and players alike are not satisfied with an appearance in the Big East Tournament anymore. This team’s leaders are determined to be NCAA bound. Before that happens, however, the games must be played and won.

The team itself, as 15-year Head Coach Larry Sullivan says, will “match up well” against opponents and be “fun to watch.” David Jones and Bryan Sullivan will assist Coach Sullivan this year. David is an alumnus of Villanova who brings a British passion for football to the team. Volunteer Bryan Sullivan is the head coach’s son whose main duty is supervising and instructing the goalkeepers.

Coach Sullivan does not have a set offensive or defensive philosophy. His focus is “on the players themselves,” and says he will “tinker with a system that matches their capabilities.” He acknowledges that the Big East is one of the premier leagues in the country. Several league teams have won national championships, and all tend to be very “big and athletic.” Coach Sullivan expects stiff competition from St. John’s, Notre Dame and Connecticut, all perennial top-20 teams. Coach Sullivan does not, however, know what to expect from South Florida and Marquette, two teams that are new to the Big East. This is a “learn-as-you-go type year” because of the “new teams and young players,” he said.

The players are young. The team returns six seniors, but only two are starters. The rest of the team is comprised of 10 freshman and 10 sophomores. All the Villanova coaches agree that this inexperience can ultimately be overcome. There is currently competition for every position on the team, including the goalkeeper. The coaches expect to be moving players around throughout the year and playing time is “open to whoever nails the job down.”

Two experienced serious leaders, Pat Gallagher and Brett Stassfurth, captain the team. Both players have already competed against some of the top athletes in their age group at the national club championship level. Coach Sullivan expects Brett to “run the midfield” and “make the ship move.” Brett is the “complete package,” and the team “follows his work ethic.” Villanova will count on Pat Gallagher to anchor the defense. Gallagher is “big and strong” with an ability to be used “tactically where needed.” In addition to smothering defense, Gallagher can also turn the ball back up field and “sustain the attack.”

Among the younger players, two freshmen stand out in particular. Adam Brazitis will add energy and depth to the defense. All opponents’ eyes, however, will be on Joe Taylor. Taylor is a “quick, hard-working, resilient” attacker who will need to score often so that the Cats can match their lofty goals. Coach Sullivan is still waiting for someone to step up and be Taylor’s complement.

Unfortunately, the team lost star sophomore scorer Dan DeMasters to a season-ending ACL injury. Both the captains and coaches admit DeMasters is a “huge offensive threat” and will be missed. The loss of one player,

however, cannot detract from the “unity” of this team. “Camaraderie is strong and players are prepared to fight for each other,” Gallagher says.

The team has fared well so far in both the pre-and regular season. Their regular season record stands at 1-1-0. In the first game against Delaware, which they won 1-0, Villanova played according to their rules. The team’s ball control enabled them to outshoot and outcorner their opponents. Despite several excellent opportunities, though, the team failed to finish strong. This issue will be a focal point for the team throughout the season. Where past Villanova teams might have lost tied or late close games, this year’s squad wants to score that extra goal in the second half that will put them over the top.

Villanova lost their second game 2-0 to Farleigh Dickinson in New Jersey. Once again ‘Nova outshot their opponent and dictated the style of play. Villanova may have frustrated Farleigh Dickinson into committing turnovers and errors, but in the end they failed to capitalize. It was evident at times that there were “signs of a young team.”

Villanova is now looking forward to the upcoming home schedule where they’ll compete at the West Campus Soccer Complex. Next weekend the team will play their Big East openers against Pittsburgh and West Virginia. A very large turnout is expected because it will be Parent’s Weekend. This supportive atmosphere is key to any soccer club, be it home or abroad.

Assistant coach Jones has given his team this challenge: “They need to be the first Villanova men’s team to make the NCAA. They have the ability to do that.”