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UNF soccer enters 2016 with new faces, higher expectations and all the motivation

While UNF’s men’s soccer team has had a string of successful years, success may be harder to come by this year. Photo by Ashley Saldana

Coach Derek Marinatos walked off the field at Coastal Carolina in disbelief. It was the soccer team’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and the head coach knew they were talented enough to advance past the first round. But despite dominating the game in virtually every statistical category, the Ospreys found themselves down 1-0 when the clock ran out — ending their 2015 season in bitter defeat.

Expectations for 2016 are high. The team has made three-consecutive ASUN Championship games, winning its first championship last season in a 7-0 blowout against USC Upstate. However, the loss of seniors like Alex Morrell, who was drafted in the first round of the MLS Draft, top-scorer Helge Pietschmann and goalkeeper Kyle Nasta will force the 2016 team to create its own identity.

Offensive Identity

Marinatos wants an offense that “attacks by committee.” His rotational system at forward doesn’t pressure anyone to be the primary goal-scorer, but it requires a host of players to contribute.

“A good team has seven, eight, nine, ten guys scoring three and four goals [throughout the season], that way you can’t key in on one player,” Marinatos said.

Three forwards from last year’s team graduated, and a focus this offseason was finding their replacements. Coach Marinatos brought in a strong, attack-focused recruiting class to fill the void and compete for the open positions. Adrian Nunez is a freshman from Costa Rica who’s flashed by scoring goals during practice, and junior Micah Smoak transferred from Eastern Florida State College, where he was an All-American.

However, the freshman front-runner at this point appears to be Glenn Johnson. Johnson was the only player to score in the opening exhibition game, and his natural talent has caught the coach’s eyes.

“He’s tall, he’s athletic, he’s very technical, he’s got speed,” Marinatos said. “He’s different than any striker we’ve had to date at this program.”

Senior midfielder Milan Kovacs’ four goals last year are the most of any returning player, and he should be a big contributor to the offense. Junior midfielder Joshua Castellanos, who scored one goal less than Kovacs, will also be featured and could see time at forward.

Jay Bolt Spinnaker archives
Jay Bolt Spinnaker archives

Defensive Stability

Senior Jay Bolt, named the team’s lead captain for this season, returns as the team’s most accomplished player and the anchor of the defense. For the past two seasons, Bolt’s been a First Team ASUN All-Conference player and a third-team selection for The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Southeast All-Region Team. Bolt will be joined by fellow senior defender Simen Solstad, who was voted to the All-ASUN Second Team. Solstad not only locked down opposing attacks, but his four assists were the third most in the conference.

Battle for Goalkeeper

There are three goalkeepers on the roster battling for the open spot Kyle Nasta, a 2015 Second-Team NSCAA All-Region selection, occupied the past two seasons before graduating. Redshirt senior Juanes Fajardo and junior Tord Pedersen are the current frontrunners, after freshman Vince Dalessio suffered an unspecified injury during warmups before Sunday’s exhibition match. Dalessio underwent an MRI on Thursday and is expected to compete for the position when he recovers. Marinatos said Fajardo and Pedersen will split playing time until a decision is made, which could last deep into the season if neither proves superior.

Experience and Motivation

The roster is full of confident players who have played in championships and won big matches.

“This senior class, they’ve competed in three-straight finals, so they’ve been to a final every single year of their careers,” Marinato said. “They know what’s at stake and our goal is to defend our title.”

The Ospreys found a way to win the championship last year, but respect may be harder to come by. Despite winning both the regular season and tournament championships, the 2016 Atlantic Sun Coaches Poll voted them second best behind Florida Gulf Coast, who lost in the tournament semifinals last year to USC Upstate.

“At the end of the day, they were upset at home by a team we beat 7-0,” Marinatos said. “For us it’s extra motivation to know that maybe they still don’t feel we were the number one team last year.”

For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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