HARROGATE, Tenn. — Boasting an experienced and youthful crop of returning players as well as an influx of 18 talented newcomers, the Lincoln Memorial University men’s soccer squad heads into the 2014 campaign with hopes of returning to South Atlantic Conference championship form.
The Railsplitters are looking to rebound from a rollercoaster season in 2013, hampered by a 1-2-1 start that included back-to-back overtime losses. Lincoln Memorial won eight of the next 11 matches before dropping the final two regular-season contests. Armed with the home-field advantage and the No.4 seed, LMU edged fifth-seeded Coker in a penalty kick shootout in the quarterfinals of the SAC Championship, but suffered a 4-1 season-ending loss to eventual SAC champion Queens in the semifinals. All told, the Railsplitters finished 9-8-2 overall and 6-4-1 in league play.
There is reason for optimism in 2014, as 10 of the 12 players to record at least one point for the Railsplitters last season are back. Three of those 10 individuals earned preseason All-SAC second team accolades in junior Leonardo da Silva, sophomore George Burne, and senior Yuri Passos. Da Silva posted five goals and three assists last season, while Burne accumulated three goals and four assists. Passos nearly matched Burne’s output with two scores and four assists on only 11 shots on frame.
The offense will also get a boost from the return of junior Pedro Villa and sophomore Alexandre Leao. Villa notched four goals and an assist in 19 appearances last season, while Leao collected two scores and an assist in an injury-shortened freshman campaign.
While Lincoln Memorial returns a significant number of second- and third-year players, the rest of Railsplitter roster is composed of a few juniors and a load of sophomores and freshmen. Lincoln Memorial University head men’s soccer coach Helio D’Anna noted that the experience among his younger players is a luxury at best.
“There’s that much more competition,” said D’Anna. “They’ll help because they’re returners — they know the conference, they know the competition — but they’re still underclassman, so many of them were freshman playing last year. We’re going to be young, but we’re definitely going to be deep.”
That depth will come into play on the back line, where the team returns junior defender Nathaniel Johnson and sophomore Harry Solomons, both of whom registered 1,200-plus minutes last season. Riding the sideline up from his defender position, Solomons posted a goal and two assists last season, while Johnson pitched in a single score. Sophomore Bryson Lehn is also expected to play a bigger role after appearing in 16 matches with 878 minutes played.
Replacing defenders Callum Home and Gus Rivera — last year’s leaders in minutes played, as well as leading scorer and former All-American Mario Pinto, will be the foundation of the early portion of the season. Pinto, the program’s record holder for career goals, accounted for 19 of the team’s 35 total goals in 2013 with either a score or an assist. D’Anna mentioned that it will likely take a committee, not one single player, to fill the void left by last season’s small, but prolific group of seniors.
“It’s going to take the village. We will not have one guy that will score as many goals as Mario. But we will have several that will pitch in. So in terms of goals, a lot of people can become a Mario so to speak. And even in terms of defense, we are going to be probably rotating five guys back there where as last year Callum had to play the whole time. Like I said, it takes the village to sub these guys.”
While there is some uncertainty on the back line, there is none in frame as senior Marcel Barwanietz returns to man the net for the Railsplitters in 2014. The fourth and final preseason All-SAC second team selection for Lincoln Memorial, Barwanietz started all 19 matches last season, compiling 72 saves on 276 shots faced. He enters the upcoming season ranked third in school history with 21 wins, while his career 1.18 goals against average is also third in the program’s storied history.
A pair of sophomore midfielders, Keegan Sanders and Nick Boegemann, can also be looked upon for help on both sides of the field. Sanders started in 12 of his 19 appearances last season with over 1,300 minutes logged, while Boegemann started two matches and played in 16 with 425 total minutes.
The Railsplitters are slated to open the season with back-to-back neutral site contests in Columbus, Ga., squaring off against Alabama-Huntsville on Sept. 5 and Shorter two days later.