Are the Gonzaga men’s soccer players ready for prime time?
They don’t have a choice: Lights went up for the first time Friday night at Luger Field, the Bulldogs’ home field. Thrust into the limelight, GU and Bradley made history by playing to a 1-1 draw even as the Bulldogs dominated every other stat line.
Two days later, GU rolled to a 4-1 win over Illinois-Chicago to improve to 1-0-1 going into Thursday’s home match against Oral Roberts.
“We feel like we’re flowing pretty well, offensively and defensively,” junior midfielder Colton Cavey said as the Bulldogs began practice Monday afternoon at Luger.
Cavey is one of three returning starters in midfield for a team that went 7-10 overall and 2-5 last year in the rugged West Coast Conference. Along with Jakob Granlund, Sam Olson and Garrett Wilson, he should give the Bulldogs a decent chance to keep possession.
Behind them is second-team all-WCC back Ben White, a strong defender who also managed to score a team-high four goals last year.
“He’s a tough defender, reads the game well while playing the back but he’s also scoring goals – that’s rare,” coach Einar Thorarinsson said.
“Defense, that’s where it starts for us,” Cavey said. However, the Bulldogs will need more scoring from forwards Jake Kempf, Christo Michaelson and Coeur d’Alene product Graison Le to move up the standings.
Last year, the Bulldogs gave up just 1.17 goals – third-best in the WCC, but scored only 17 goals all year. They also lost eight games that were decided by single goal.
Besides better depth across the roster, Thorarinsson hopes the lights will help: GU gets four conference games at home this year, and now they’ll be able to draw better crowds under the lights.
Whitworth: An offseason trip helped the Pirates appreciate the big picture.
One of the best seasons in school history was tainted a bit by early elimination from the NCAA Division III tournament. However, a January trip to South Africa helped Whitworth hit the reset button.
“Each one of our guys had a life-impacting experience … and I believe they have now a greater affinity for this great game of soccer and its ability to impact lives,” coach Morgan Cathey said.
Less than two months earlier, the Pirates were 16-1-1 overall and claimed their second straight Northwest Conference title, but gave away a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss to Redlands in the first round of the playoffs.
“To be up by two goals in the second half of an NCAA tournament game and then losing on an own-goal was a great lesson that will drive our group to get back to there,” said Cathey, who is 45-7-7 in his first three seasons as the Pirates’ head coach.
Whitworth returns eight starters from last season’s squad, as well as another starter from 2014 who missed all of last year. With eight other letter-winners returning, plus several key additions, Cathey has plenty to work with in his 26-man roster.
Timmy Costa is back in goal, where he started 197 games and posted a 0.58 goals-against average.
Senior Caleb Bia, a first-team all-NWC pick, returns at center back Tyler Pangia and Aaron Yanagi return on the outside.
Two starters, Eric Espinoza and Jonah Snyder, return in midfield.
Up front, the Pirates must replace the NWC Offensive Player of the Year in Karl Muelheims and four-year starter Sam Engle.
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