Aug. 22, 2007
When the Bulldogs begin play in the 2007 men's soccer season, more than half of the players on the squad will be wearing a Butler uniform for the first time. But head coach Kelly Findley isn't worried about a lengthy adjustment period for his young squad.
"The attitude, work ethic and determination of our returning players has been terrific, and that's helped set the tone," said Findley, who's in his second season with the Bulldogs. "The new guys have stepped into that and now we're moving forward. We have a good talent base and the players have shown that they're willing to work hard. If we can learn quickly, I think we'll be very good."
Findley has 10 players back from last year's squad, which posted a 7-11-2 record and placed sixth in the Horizon League. Included in that group is last year's scoring leader, Frank Patano, plus four other 2006 starters. The Bulldogs' returning corps has just one senior, five juniors and four sophomores.
New faces will comprise the rest of Butler's squad. Findley and his staff have added three transfers and 13 true freshmen. The pool of newcomers has added depth and talent at every position.
"All of our new players are from winning backgrounds," noted the Butler coach. "They all expect to win, and we expect them to win. We won't be looking at the other team's jerseys and wondering if the game is over before we play. I think the best thing is these young guys are prepared to battle."
"Overall, we'll be a much more athletic team and a much deeper team this year. We'll have some serious competition for playing time. I think we can go 16 or 17 deep, and that's pretty good," added Findley.
Improving an attack that averaged just 1.5 goals per match, could hold the key for the Bulldogs in 2007. A year ago, Findley's squad had 11 matches decided by a single goal last season, and the Bulldogs dropped seven of those contests. Butler lost four matches in overtime, including three in league play.
"I believe in soccer, a lot of goals are scored by mistakes," said Findley. "So our goal is to minimize our mistakes and maximize those of our opponents."
Butler's offense will begin with a pair of returning regulars, Patano and junior Eduardo Garcia. Patano scored a team-high seven goals, including three game-winners, last season, while Garcia added three. The two combined for 25 of Butler's 77 points on the year. Either or both could start up front for the Bulldogs, though a challenge could come from newcomer Dustin Mares, who was an All-State forward at St. Joseph's High School in South Bend, Ind.
Additional scoring punch could come from a young, but solid, group of midfielders, led by junior David Giarratana. A starter in 17 of 19 matches a year ago, Giarratana finished seventh on the team in scoring with two goals and an assist. Garcia also could log time as a midfielder, along with transfer Boris Gatzky, and freshmen Michael Clayton, Kyle Pateros, Ben Sippola, Jacob Capito, Troy Blewitt and Matt Sall. Gatzky, who played at Gardner-Webb, earned freshman All-America honors and was named Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year in 2006. He was the team's second-leading scorer with four goals and eight assists. Clayton, Pateros and Blewitt each earned first team All-State recognition as high school players a year ago, while Capito and Sall were second team All-State picks. Sippola was named Most Valuable Player of his high school squad in 2006.
Findley will look to a mix of returning players and newcomers to fill a back line that lost starters Matt Soldato and Aaron Thompson to graduation. Sophomore Austin Evans, who started 19 matches on defense a year ago, is Butler's most experienced returnee, but Findley also can call on senior Ian Sweeney, junior Joe Wienman and sophomores Adam Burch, Kyle VondenBenken and Jared Gillespie, all returning letterwinners. VondenBenken started 10 matches a year. Additional help could come from freshmen Connor Burt, Galen Cassady, Jeff Frank, Brett Heinz and Randy Richter.
"We're going to be young (on defense), but I think we have pretty good depth," stated Findley. "We have some tough kids back there and we're more athletic. The one thing we lack is experience, but I think they can make up for that with their fitness and athletic ability."
Experience also may be a concern at goalkeeper with the graduation loss of Frank Peabody, who started all 20 matches last year. But Findley does have solid options with returning letterwinner Nick Hegeman, transfers Fabian Knopfler and Jordan Myers and freshman Nick Powell.
"We're really pleased with our goalkeepers. Short of having a returning starter, I don't know how you could be in better shape than we are," said Findley. "We have four guys with different levels of experience, and all are talented and capable. We're definitely deeper at the position than we've been."
Hegeman, who played behind Peabody for two years, has the most Butler experience, while Knopfler, who's from Germany, brings an extensive international background. Myers adds maturity at the position, while Powell is a skilled and talented newcomer.
The Bulldogs, who host their final exhibition match against Xavier on Saturday (Aug. 25), will open the 2007 campaign against Sacramento State at the Dayton Tournament on Friday, August 31. Butler also will compete in the Western Kentucky Tournament and the Northern Illinois Tournament, before playing its home-opener against Dayton on Thursday, Sept. 20.