Bluem back in the booth; Irizarry to Puerto Rico; inside the spring roster

COLUMBUS, Ohio And now the hard part begins.

Three months after winning the Big Ten championship and advancing all the way to the national championship game, the Ohio State men’s soccer team began spring practice Monday with the resolve to prove 2007 was no flash in the pan.

This decade, however, is enough proof of that. The Buckeyes have won three Big Ten titles, including 2000 and 2007 and a regular-season co-championship in 2004. Ohio State advanced to the Sweet 16’ in 2004 and last year received a first-round bye before winning three tournament games in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium to earn a trip to the College Cup in Cary, N.C. There, the Buckeyes knocked off Massachusetts, 1-0, in the national semifinals before falling to No. 1 Wake Forest, 2-1.

Every spring, Ohio State head coach John Bluem and his staff set out to evaluate the returning players and begin to build a foundation for the fall.

“The spring is really the only time in a college soccer season to work on player development,” Bluem said. “And this spring will give us a chance to give a lot of minutes to some our returning players who didn’t play a lot last fall but helped us get to the College Cup guys like Nick Galiardi, Sam Scales, Konrad Warzycha, Sam Sprauer and Nowa Thiam. This spring will give them a chance to show their ability in Division I soccer without a win-at-all-costs mentality that exists in the fall. The spring is a good stage for our young guys to get a feel for the game and we’ll see how they produce.”

The 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes will be honored Saturday in Columbus Crew Stadium at halftime of the Crew’s season opener against Toronto FC.

The Buckeyes will play at least seven games this spring, beginning Sunday when they travel to take on Xavier at Springboro High School. The following Saturday, April 5, they will play two games in Dayton, first against Dayton and then against Cincinnati.

Ohio State takes on Loyola Chicago in Fort Wayne, Ind., Friday night, April 11, in an event that also included Indiana and Notre Dame. April 19 will find the Buckeyes in Indianapolis, Ind., for a return trip to the Literacy Classic (opponents are TBA).

Ohio State will face the former Buckeyes in the annual Alumni Game April 27 before taking on the Columbus Crew in the Seventh Annual Connor Senn Memorial Game April 29 in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

Ohio State midfielder Danny Irizarry, who will be a senior this fall, has been invited to play with the Puerto Rico national team and played in a World Cup qualifying match Wednesday against the Dominican Republic, won by Puerto Rico, 1-0. Irizarry spent the week at the Puerto Rican training camp and could see more time with the squad this spring and summer.

“It’s a great opportunity for Danny to play with and against great competition,” Bluem said. “It will help develop his game further coming back for his senior season. I think Danny could make the squad and play in some qualifying games this summer.”

The battle to replace Casey Latchem at goalkeeper for the Buckeyes next fall is a three-horse race with returners Byron Neal and Ryan Dalton and newcomer Drew Czekanski, who played his first three seasons of college soccer at Virginia Tech before transferring to Ohio State this past winter quarter.

Czekanski (pronounced “zuh-CAN-skee”) played in one match for the Hokies in 2005 and started 12 matches for VT in 2006. An injury kept him out of action all of 2007 as Virginia Tech went on a postseason run that did not end until a loss to eventual national champion Wake Forest in the semifinals of the College Cup.

“Drew is a welcomed addition,” Bluem said. “We hope the competition for the goalkeeper spot is good and may the best man win. We haven’t had a chance to see Drew play yet because he is still rehabbing from the injury, but considering he started 12 games for Virginia Tech in 2006 we are excited about the depth and experience he brings to our team.”

Czekanski is no stronger to Columbus, though. He was born and raised in nearby Westerville, Ohio, and played at Westerville North High School with current Buckeye Patrick Roan.

This spring, the Buckeyes will be out to replace seven seniors and junior Roger Espinoza from their 2007 team that went 17-4-5. Starters gone include goalkeeper Casey Latchem, defender Eric Brunner, Espinoza in the midfield and forward Xavier Balc. Espinoza was the 11th pick by Kansas City in the MLS SuperDraft and is on the Wizard’s active roster, while Brunner was the 16th pick by New York and is on the Red Bulls’ active roster. Balc, who was taken in the Supplemental Draft, and Latchem are seeking a professional team in either the MLS or Division I USISL.

On paper, the Buckeyes will have seven returning starters coming back in the fall and six other players who saw playing time at some point last season. Here is the breakdown of the Buckeyes’ spring roster and their year in school this fall, with returning starters marked with an asterisk.

*Andrew Magill, junior
Nowa Thiam, sophomore

Nick Galiardi, sophomore
*Matt Gold, sophomore
*Danny Irizarry, senior
*Geoff Marsh, senior
Scott Marguglio, junior
Sam Sprauer, sophomore
Sam Scales, sophomore
Konrad Warzycha, sophomore

*Patrick Roan, senior
Jordan Lomnicki, sophomore
*Doug Verhoff, junior
*Tim Gabel, senior
Joe Moore, junior

Drew Czekanski, junior
Byron Neal, junior
Ryan Dalton, sophomore

Ohio State head coach John Bluem will be back in the radio broadcast booth at Crew Stadium this season to be the color analyst for Columbus Crew home games on 610 WTVN. Neil Sika is back as the play-by-play announcer. Their first game is Saturday at 4 p.m. against Toronto FC.

Check out in April for the announcement of Ohio State’s fall schedule.

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Contact: Tim Stried,