Men’s soccer approaches crunch time in new Big East

Imagine you are taking a big exam in two weeks, a trial by fire that could determine how the rest of your year turns out. Now imagine that you are not allowed to see the source material until four days before you take the test, forcing you to prepare in an incredibly short period of time.

That is essentially how it works for DePaul men’s soccer coach Craig Blazer.

Due to NCAA regulations, Blazer is not allowed to conduct team activities during the summer. This is a general standard for most Division I sports, but for sports such as football a coach is allowed nearly a month to prepare for the season. For the Blue Demons men’s soccer team, training starts Aug. 14, and the first exhibition game is just four days later Aug. 18.

“It’s always a battle,” Blazer, who is entering his 13th year at the helm of the club, said.

While exhibition games could be considered glorified practice sessions, it does not mean the summer is any less cramped. Tune-ups at Western Illinois and Michigan are followed by the season opener at home against Green Bay, a mere 16 days after training begins.

It is bound to be even more difficult for the team since there are 10 new players, including nine freshmen – about a third of the entire roster.

“We have a lot of young guys, but we return eight academic seniors. It gives us balance,” Blazer said.

DePaul struggled to a 4-10-3 mark in 2012, including a 1-6-1 conference record. In the new Big East, camaraderie and experience among players young and old will go a long way toward reaching the team’s ultimate goal.

“The new Big East is very exciting and has a very good balance to it,” Blazer said. “Five teams played in the NCAA tournament last year. Our goal is to qualify for the Big East tournament and go from there.”

With so many new players and so little time to prepare, Blazer has managed to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign.

“It’s not a lot of time, but we really need to use it to integrate the group and get everybody on the same page,” Blazer said. “The starting point is to get them fit, install a mental discipline and a mindset to win Big East games.”

Blazer says that qualifying for the tournament will be a difficult task, but that he knows his players have the ability to do it if they work together for the entire year.

“Qualifying for the Big East tournament will be a team effort,” Blazer said. “We don’t have a group of total superstars, so we have to work with a ‘DePaul-first’ mentality if we want to win.”

With less than a month before the season begins, and training less than two weeks away, Blazer and his team will soon be able to finally take the field and show that they can compete in an exciting new conference.