Reloaded: Men’s soccer preview

Despite being one of the youngest teams in the Big East, there is one word that echoes from the DePaul men’s soccer team this season: experience.

The 2012 Blue Demons see the return of nine of 11 starters from last season, losing only winger Matt Leinauer and defender John Jandl to graduation. The team boasts 18 underclassmen, many of whom have a full season of Big East soccer under their belts.

Head coach Craig Blazer highlighted that year of experience before the season-opening 2-1 win against UIC on Aug. 24.

“The experience guys like Gus (Kyle Gustafson), Thiago (Ganancio), David (Selvaggi), Michael (Stankiewicz) got is huge,” Blazer said. “It’s invaluable.”

Other sophomores who saw significant time last season include Anthony Hunter, Curtis Weir and Jake Douglas – each making double-digit appearances.

Last Season

Last season, the team finished 6-11-2 and 3-5-1 in conference play – enough to grab a sixth place finish in the Big East Red Division and qualify for the program’s sixth consecutive Big East tournament. The season ended in the first round of the playoffs when the Blue Demons traveled to then No. 7/4-ranked UConn Huskies and were on the wrong end of a 4-0 score line.

“We definitely hope to avoid UConn again,” said Antonio Aguilar, the team’s only fourth-year player. “We were eliminated by them two years in a row. Hopefully we do well in the regular season to qualify and then get out of the first stage (of the Big East tournament).”

Aguilar, a senior midfielder from Hammond, Ind., led the Blue Demons in total points last season behind seven goals and four assists, earning All-Big East First Team honors, while David Selvaggi’s seven goals earned him All-Big East Rookie honors.

This Season

The men’s soccer team (1-2-0 as of Sept. 5) opened the season with a 2-1 over UIC before falling in two consecutive matches to Western Illinois (2-1) and Western Michigan (1-0).

“We’ve made a lot of improvements already this year,” Blazer said of the transition between the two campaigns. “We went 1-1-1 in preseason and started off well with a win against UIC. But the last two games have shown some of our weaknesses. We’re a solid team but we’ve got to get more going offensively. That’s a collective challenge.”

Top performers so far this season have been Ganancio, who earned Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors for his two-goal performance against the Flames, and the stingy backline anchored by junior centerbacks Austin Toth and Jared Blincow.


With a new season and new assistant coach – former DePaul stand-out Mark Plotkin joined the coaching ranks in the off-season – come a new formation and tactical game plan.

Last year the Blue Demons employed a more possession-based 4-1-4-1 formation, however the team has lined-up in a 4-3-3 in the early part of this campaign.

“We’ve got three or four good attack-minded players who are fast and a real strength to our team,” Blazer said. “As they keep doing better, we’ll keep doing better as a team. The group understood the game plan and how we want to play this season. They like it. With more games we’ll be able to start putting the other team under pressure this season.”

The formation allows a mobile attacking front four, with Ganancio leading the line as the striker, and freshman Michael Kozielek playing on the left. Aguilar has been deployed in the hole as an attacking mid or also out wide if Selvaggi, for example, starts the match as a substitute in place of Michael Stankiewicz.

Meanwhile, Brian Schultz, Zach Forbes and Brian Hindle have featured in the central midfield positions. The Blue Demons should also receive a boost in the middle of the pitch when junior Ray De Leon regains fitness, having missed most of last season with a season-ending injury following a freshman campaign in which he started 17 of 19 matches.

Season Goals

Regardless of the experience the young team has, the first step in having a successful season is to qualify for the Big East tournament – and that’s never an easy feat according to goalkeeper Eric Sorby, one of the team’s captains.

“The Big East is one of the most competitive conferences,” the junior said. “There are a lot of big name schools and good players, but we’ve got good players here that we hope to compete with.”

Aguilar echoes that sentiment.

“There’s never an easy game in the Big East,” he said. “I think it’s the hardest alongside the ACC. (The Big East) keeps producing MLS players and when they go (professional), they get replaced by good players coming in.”

Conference play for the Blue Demons is no easy road, beginning with a road trip to Marquette Sept. 22 before welcoming reigning Big East champs St. John’s at Wish Field a week later. Other tough matchups include Louisville away and South Florida – a team that went to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament – at home to close the season.

Home Comforts

Both Aguilar and Sorby highlighted the importance of improving the home and away form. Last season the Blue Demons were 5-4 at home (2-2 in the Big East) and 1-6-2 (1-3-1) on the road.

“We need to do more to battle for results on the road,” Sorby said. “We’ve been unlucky at home. We’ve put in good performances, but we’ve got to come together as a team and get results.”

But improving the record at Wish Field, like playing in the Big East, is easier said than done, according to Blazer.

“We’re a Big East team and teams come in excited to play against us,” said Blazer, who enters his 12th year in charge of the program. “Our style is to try and keep the ball countered with high pressure from the team when we don’t. We don’t necessarily rely on physicality and combativeness. All the teams we play are good teams. There’s little room for error.”

The next match for the Blue Demons is a Red Line Rivalry match-up with Loyola Chicago at Wish Field Sept. 11. Kickoff is at 3 p.m.