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August 17, 2010

Nice to meet you - The success of the 2010 men's soccer team could depend on how quickly a group of strangers unite

By: Matt Kovatch

Senior James Shupp is a three-year starter whom Tech coaches hope can make a positive influence on some of the team’s many young newcomers.

If there’s a key to the 2010 Virginia Tech men’s soccer season, it’s going to be, as second-year head coach Mike Brizendine termed it, “that group in red.”

Scanning a sheet of paper with the Hokies’ roster on it just before the start of preseason practice, it was impossible not to notice the large amount of names in red ink, a distinction bestowed upon any newcomers to the rebuilding program.

“We have a big, new group here,” Brizendine said. “There are a lot of question marks. We’re excited about this new bunch, but we don’t really know what to expect yet.”

In fact, of the 32 players on that sheet, 17 of them were printed in red. To put that number in context, the roster only contains 15 guys who were around last year, nine of whom were newcomers then themselves. While there is sure to be an extended getting-to-know-you process, the Tech staff is excited about what the influx of new blood could bring to the table.

“With our new players, we focused on bringing in some guys who could improve our athleticism,” Brizendine explained. “We have a few guys who are explosive and who are going to give us an opportunity to open up defenses. We also brought in some size. We have a couple of kids who are 6-foot-4 plus. We brought in some different dynamics that I think will make us a tougher match-up.

“We have the tools, so now we need to find the right chemistry. The last couple of years, I don’t know if we’ve necessarily had the tools, so I’m excited about that aspect.”

Since making a run to the NCAA College Cup in 2007, the Hokies have gone a combined 10-25-3 during the past two seasons. The 2008 struggles were mostly due to the loss of many of the previous year’s stars, and 2009 was a transition period between former coach Oliver Weiss’ tenure and the start of Brizendine’s. Now more than a year after getting promoted to the big chair, the former assistant finds himself much more comfortable in his role.

“It takes time building a foundation and building a program,” Brizendine said. “Not just putting together a great team, but putting together a great program. Year two is going to be so much better. We’re more organized. My staff knows what to expect of me. The upperclassmen have had a year in the system and they know what to expect. It’s the second stage in building that foundation. I think this season will be much more enjoyable for everyone. It will be much smoother over the course of the year than it was last year.”

Though there will undoubtedly be some growing pains while integrating such a big group of new players, it’s not as if Brizendine has a bare cupboard of experience – Tech does return eight players who started at least 10 games each in 2009.

Though only a sophomore, defender David Fiorello will be relied upon as one of the Hokies’ leaders on the field.

Brizendine pointed specifically toward a pair of sophomores – defender David Fiorello and defender/midfielder Greg Cochrane – as two of his returnees whom he is going to lean on.

“I’m excited about the form of Greg and David,” he said. “I think there is good leadership there. Our captain at this point is David – he’s one of the ‘glue guys’ of the team.”

Though Fiorello and Cochrane combined to contribute just two points last season, their leadership and maturity – combined with the same from senior James Shupp – will be counted upon to stabilize a back line that will protect what might be labeled as a tenuous situation at goalkeeper.

There will be three players fighting for playing time in net, one of whom – Thomas St. Germain – actually started seven games as a freshman in 2008 before spending last fall away from the program. There’s also a transfer from Canisius in Adam Miller and a true freshman from nearby Lynchburg in Kyle Renfro.

“We’ve got a returnee, an upperclassman transfer who’s seen a lot of minutes, and a young guy who we have strong feelings about for our future,” Brizendine said. “You can tell by that mix that it’s going to be very competitive.”

On the attack will be a number of new guys, in addition to senior Clarke Bentley and sophomores Robert Alberti and Albert Awang. It might be a score-by-committee situation until everyone figures out what their new roles are, but it’s a learning process that Brizendine is prepared for. He’ll be stressing progression, yet all the while embracing patience.

“To build something that’s great takes time and there’s a process to it,” he said. “We’re in the steps of that. I think this year will be a better year for us, both record-wise and in the product that we put out there. I don’t think it will be a finished product, but I think we have enough new guys that if we have a little bit of success early, we can get that momentum going. Who knows where that can take us? I’m very excited about the future.”

For The Official Men's Soccer Roster click here.

For the Official Men's Soccer Schedule click here.