PEELER: Men's Soccer Looking for Fast Start
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – When the NC State men's soccer team gathered for preseason camp last year, there was a wide variety of unfamiliar faces and diverse backgrounds.
Head coach George Tarantini brought a handful of junior college and transfer players, most with international backgrounds, and welcomed back previously injured starter Ronnie Bouemboue. When he put together his first starting lineup, he had players representing four different continents on the field.
In the beginning, things did not go well, starting with the season-opening tie against Mercer. The Wolfpack lost seven of its next eight games, including a forfeited win against Boston College.
The primary culprits for the slow start? The inability of the collection of new players to communicate effectively and an overall lack of team chemistry.
But that changed in the second half of the season, as Tarantini's team won eight of its final 11 games, finishing with an even 9-9-1 overall record. The Pack beat Virginia Tech in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, before losing its final game of the season, 4-1, to top-ranked Wake Forest.
Tarantini and his team believe that finish is a good jumping off point for this season, which begins today against Winthrop at 7 p.m. at the Dail Soccer Stadium on NC State's campus.
The Wolfpack has all of its regular starters returning, including Bouemboue, who led the team with 14 goals and four assists. He and senior Alan Sanchez both earned second-team All-ACC honors last year. Senior goalkeeper Christopher Widman also returns for his fourth consecutive season as a starter.
"I think this year will be better, from the beginning," said Federico Nachmann, a senior from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who started 18 of the Pack's 19 games last year. "We know all the little things that each other does, all the things our teammates like and don't like. It's more of a relationship."
Sure, as Tarantini says, the language of soccer is the same no matter what your native tongue. But everyone needed to make some adjustments, particularly in style of play.
Korede Aiyegbusi, a native of London with a Nigerian background, loved playing a faster game. Chrystel Bakong, who came from Cameroon via Baltimore and Louisburg College, played a more passive, defensive game. Everyone, it seemed, came in with a different approach to the game.
So it simply took a while to mesh.
The team didn't want that to be a problem this year, so the players started their off-season training regimen at 5:45 a.m. on Jan. 12, and have been going strong ever since. Some of them went their separate ways for a while - Aiyegbusi spent the summer as a starter for England's team at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia - but have reconvened with a sense of optimism that built over the last half of the 2008 season.
"I think this year's team has the ability to come out and start strong, as opposed to last year," said Aiyegbusi, who started all 19 games at outside left back last year. "That will of course depend on everyone's discipline and focus when we come out to play.
"But we have a great deal of understanding with each other now. I think if we come out strong and play with discipline from the get-go, we can have an amazing record this season."
With all the starters returning and eight newcomers joining the team, Tarantini also has high hopes for his 24th edition of the Wolfpack.
"The experience last year was pretty tough because we had a new team," said the two-time ACC Coach of the Year. "Just about everyone was new.
"But the experience we got last year and the commitment our guys made in the off-season is paying off. We still have a long way to go. We need to keep working, be consistent and take it one day at a time."
The team will play at the Duke Nike Classic in Durham this weekend, facing Denver on Friday and Columbia on Sunday, followed by its ACC opener at North Carolina on Sept. 12.
"I think there some electricity about the season," Tarantini said. 'The crowd we had for our scrimmage [a 3-1 win over UNC-Greensboro] was one of the best we have had in a long time. We were able to take care of business and score three quality goals.
"We looked quick, we looked dangerous and we looked committed. That makes me excited about this coming season."
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.