Aug. 6, 2003
A third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament narrowly eluded the Ohio State men’s soccer team in 2002, but the Buckeyes and seventh-year head coach John Bluem aim to erase that deficit in 2003 by making a run to the Big Ten championship game and beyond.
Bluem said goodbye to a talented senior class last season that provided talent and leadership and guided Ohio State to an 11-7-1 overall record and a 3-3 mark in the Big Ten.
“We’re losing a great senior class in Tony Earp, Todd Grossnickle, John Tomaino, Jake Traeger and Andy Rosenband,” said Bluem. “They helped lead us to two trips to the NCAA Tournament and that group had four straight winning seasons, which was the first time that has happened in Ohio State history.”
Two of those seniors, Traeger and Rosenband, were selected in the sixth round of the 2003 Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Earp and Tomiano and then-junior Justin Cook joined Traeger and Rosenband as All-Big Ten honorees last season. Cook will unfortunately miss the 2003 season due to an injury suffered in May.
Eight starters return, however, and with a total of 18 letterwinners back in camp, the Buckeyes have their sights set high. Bluem is just the man to take them there. He owns the highest winning percentage in OSU men’s soccer history and is now just nine wins shy of OSU’s all-time wins record.
“I think we have a team that has a very good blend of experienced players with new, hungry players who have the attitude that they have something to prove,” said Bluem. “That should be a good combination.”
The loss of Rosenband to graduation and Cook to injury took with it Ohio State’s two leading scorers from 2002. That duo combined for 34 points and leaves the forward positions without a returning starter. However, junior Jason Ryan and sophomore Kevin Nugent return after ranking fourth and seventh, respectively, on the team in scoring last season. Ryan was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week once last season. “Jason Ryan has a good, solid game and was a starter as a freshman on our Big Ten championship team,” said Bluem. “He’s battled through some injury problems, but if he can avoid those, he’s a force.”
Nugent proved right away that he was ready to make the transition from high school to collegiate soccer. He was the only freshman to play in all 19 games last season and ended the season with four goals.
“Kevin Nugent is a natural goal scorer and was the leading scorer on a national championship club team,” said Bluem. “He’s going to have to shoulder a bit more of the responsibility this year to be the go-to guy, and I think he’s ready for that.”
Freshmen DJ Catrow and Mark McKeever will also figure into Bluem’s plans for the season.
“DJ and Mark have both scored a ton of goals for their club and high school teams,” said Bluem. “They both bring to the table incredible athletic ability, strength and speed. They will run you over to get to the ball.”
Six veterans and five newcomers will battle for minutes at the midfield positions. Returning starters in the interior include senior AJ Weber and junior Peter Withers, who both collected six points last season.
“AJ Weber has played in almost every game the last three years,” said Bluem. “He’s a very disciplined player and is strong, physical and athletic. Peter Withers can play at a midfield position or on the left side. He’s a playmaker and sets people up with chances to score.”
Three other juniors also return at the midfield position as Adam Kreinbrink and Adam Schauer join Sammy Tamporello, who ranked third on the squad in scoring last season with 10 points off three goals and four assists.
“Sammy Tamporello is our best one-on-one player,” said Bluem. “He can take people on, get behind people and cross balls. Adam Schauer is a big, strong guy who is great in the air. When he’s on, he has the potential to be our best player this year. Adam Kreinbrink is a good, smart player and we’d like to see him get more involved.”
Bluem also has high hopes for freshmen midfielders Taylor Korpieski, Dustin Kirby, Brent Rohrer and Rob Strachan.
“They all have a great work ethic and good soccer sense. They will do whatever it takes to get into the starting lineup. It’s a really good group that we’ve put high hopes in for the future and we think that all four will see playing time early on in their careers.”
Once again the strength of the team will be Bluem’s corps of defenders, which will be tough for Buckeye opponents to penetrate despite the loss of Jake Traeger, last season’s top defender who is now a member of the Columbus Crew.
“We’re more experienced here than any other position on the field,” said Bluem, “but we’ll certainly miss Jake Traeger. Without a doubt he was our best defender last year and was one of the best defenders in the Big Ten.”
Returning starters include Dave Ridenhour at left center, Matt McCune at right back and Eric Schwebach at left back. Ridenhour is the only returning Buckeye who started all 19 matches last season and was named the team’s Most Improved Player after the season.
“David is a complete player and is without question the most intelligent player we have,” said Bluem. “He’ll be our captain this year and will do a great job in that role.”
McCune and Schwebach add versatility and experience to the Buckeye defense.
“Matt McCune is an incredibly good athlete,” praised Bluem. “He gives us a great dimension as an attacker. He gets up and down the flank very well and provides dangerous crosses. Eric Schwebach did a great job last year defensively and we’d like to see him get a little more involved in the attack this year.”
In addition to the three returning starters, veterans Mike McCarthy, Sam Migliano, Chris Tumblin and Dana York add depth and will battle for a starting position.
“Mike McCarthy was our first choice to replace Jake Traeger this spring season in the central defensive role in our back four and he did pretty well,” said Bluem. “He’s a solid defender and doesn’t mind challenging people. Sam Migliano had a great spring season. He is a natural left back and has a very good left foot.”
Tumblin is another of Ohio State’s physical players, while York adds the element of speed.
“Chris Tumblin is a very strong and solid player,” continued Bluem. “He’s a good, smart, hard defender who likes to punish people. Dana York is our fastest player. He can absolutely hammer a ball and has great power in his shooting and crossing.”
Adding depth to the defensive corps are sophomore Jim Fisher and freshman Sean Giroux.
“Jim Fisher had a strong spring season that led to the invitation for him to join the 2003 team,” said Bluem. “Sean Giroux has started for the Irvine Strikers, which is one of the top club teams in California, so we know right away that he’s a good player and has been well coached.”
In goal, the Buckeyes return junior Chad Brown, one of the top goalkeepers in the Big Ten, but Bluem believes that sophomore Ray Burse will contend for the starting keeper position in 2003.
“In those two guys we have two good choices for our goalkeeper,” said Bluem. “Chad Brown started the majority of the games last year as a redshirt sophomore. He has a great work ethic and we think he has the potential to be even better this year.”
Brown started in 17 matches last season and allowed just 16 goals in 1,591 minutes of action. His eight shutouts led the Big Ten and he allowed just 0.90 goals per contest while earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors twice.
“Ray Burse battled through some injury problems last year as a freshman and played very little,” said Bluem, “but he has a big upside to him. He played well in the spring and has great size and athleticism.”
Newcomers Trey Buck and Brian D’Amico will add depth to the goalkeeper position and will be groomed for the future.
“We think that Trey Buck will provide some good backup and certainly be a strong presence in training. Brian D’Amico is coming off a knee injury but played at Centerville High School and did a very good job there. They both will give us good depth and we hope that one of them, or both, will grow into the role of being our starting goalkeeper by their junior year.”
A schedule filled with ranked teams, including the defending national champion, awaits the Buckeyes in 2003.
“The overall strength of the schedule should prove to be very good this season and will rank very high,” said Bluem. “Our players should look forward to playing this schedule.”
For the third consecutive year the Buckeyes will host a College Cup Preview Match on Aug. 22 in Crew Stadium, home of the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. This year Ohio State will host Southern Methodist University, a squad aiming for its fourth straight Missouri Valley Conference title and trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Following the exhibition match against SMU, Ohio State will begin its season Aug. 29 and 31 at the Cal State Fullerton Titan Classic, where the Buckeyes will face Cal State Fullerton (8-9-3, 4-4-2 Big West) and 2002 National Champion UCLA (18-3-3, 8-2 Pac 10).
“Cal State Fullerton will be handful at their place and UCLA is the defending national champion, so that will be a great tournament to go to and there will be a lot of publicity for that event,” said Bluem.
The Buckeyes will then entertain Bradley (14-6-4, 4-3-2 Missouri Valley Conference) and Tulsa (10-9, 4-5 MVC) when they return home to host the Ohio State Classic Sept. 5 and 7.
“Bradley had a good run last year, they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament three or four years in a row now, and Tulsa is a great team, too. They both play in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is a very good conference.”
At the Penn State/Nike Classic Sept. 12 and 13, the Buckeyes will meet Hartwick College and Boston College. Bluem played collegiate soccer at Hartwick and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
“Hartwick is going to be a good team,” said Bluem, “and Boston College has had some great runs the last few years in the NCAA Tournament and plays in the Big East Conference, so they’re going to be very solid. “
Bluem also noted several other match-ups that highlight the non-conference slate.
“Louisville is a well-coached, well-organized team and will be difficult to play against. Oakland is a good program with good players and they’ll be tough after being desimated by injuries when we played them last season. Pittsburg won’t be easy to play at their place and they could potentially be a very high-ranked team. Then there’s Maryland from the ACC, which is a great conference.”
Returning to the top of the Big Ten, where the Buckeyes found themselves following the 2000 season, is a welcomed challenge for the Buckeyes in 2003. Indiana, which will host the Big Ten tournament this season, will once again be the team that Bluem and the Buckeyes need to beat to get there.
“The Big Ten will be extremely strong again this year with every team improving,” said Bluem. “Indiana will be playing with a lot of emotion this year and I think they’ll be the team to beat. Penn State had a very good recruiting year and returns most of their midfield front line.”
Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin all posted 3-3 Big Ten records last season to tie for second place and will battle to unseat Indiana from the top spot in the league in 2003.