2010 Men's Soccer Season Preview
J. Andrew Lockwood
You can get a feel for the expectations hovering over the Mercer men’s soccer program when you talk to anyone on the team. All three of my interviewees during the team’s media day echoed the same sentiment: “Our goal is to win the A-Sun and make it to the NCAA tournament.”
Brad Ruzzo’s squad returns nine starters on a team that made it to the conference title game a year ago. Notably, they did so with a losing record, 7-11-2, but were relegated to 5th place in the preseason Atlantic Sun Coaches’ Poll. Doubts around the league seem to still be abound, but none of that phases the third year head coach.
“We’re going to have to accomplish a lot on the road this year,” said Ruzzo. “With only 6 home games and 11 away games, we’re going to have to really play well in different environments to be competitive,” he added.
With 9 of the first 11 matches on the road, Mercer will certainly have to get results in matches were they’re favored as they play a plethora of squads this fall. Their toughest trip may come on October 6th when they take on a dominant UAB program in Birmingham.
“We’ve scheduled a lot of different teams this season. Some are really good teams, others comparable, and others we’ll expect a result from, but I think it’s a schedule that we can build some confidence upon,” remarked Ruzzo.
Mercer will certainly have the players to make another deep run in the Atlantic Sun tournament with senior midfielder Ian Cameron leading the way. Cameron’s 18 points and 7 goals last season earned him the respect of many around collegiate soccer as he was named the top player in the A-Sun according to TopDrawerSoccer.com.
Joining Cameron in the projected starting lineup will be Richie Edmondson (8 pt, 2 G), Will Betts (6 pt, 2 G), Ryan Young (6 pt, 2 G), Stefan Wingo (4 pt, 2 G), Bryson Jones, Philip Thoren, Joey Heavner, and goalie Brett Petricek. Petricek’s breakout freshman year, allowing only 1.29 goals per game earned him a place on the TopDrawerSoccer.com list as well as the #13 player in the A-Sun. Both Petricek and Cameron were Preseason All-Atlantic Sun Team members.
Most likely joining the returning lettermen in the lineup will be Clemson transfer Josh Shutter. A tall and physical defender, Shutter will be expected to contribute quickly to the Bears lineup as he started 12 games last fall for Clemson. Visiting Mercer last spring, the high school teammate of Joey Heavner liked what he saw around the Quad and looks forward to playing this year with a new group of teammates.
“They’re a great group of guys. I liked what I saw when I came to visit and I think we have the potential to win the A-Sun and advance to the NCAAs,” said Shutter.
A strong freshman class that includes key signees Joshua Ball, Brady O’Brien, and Ryan King will join a nucleus of the team that gelled late last season.
“We really started having a lot of fun near the end of the season and it affected our play,” said Richie Edmondson. “Our schedule will be difficult this season, but I think we have extra motivation when we play teams within our conference,” he added.
For junior Phil Thoren, this season is the comeback year after an aggravating 2009 season filled with injury. After much rehab, the Swed looks to be in top shape and is easily identifiable as one of the team’s leaders along with Cameron.
“We’re hungry this year. Each practice we’ve been getting better and better and I think we feed off of Coach’s passion for the game,” Thoren said.
The Bears certainly have passion and talent. How the team plays on the road could indicate early the expectations of the squad, but like the lesson we learned last year, it’s not how you start out but it’s how you finish.