Bearcats Look to Lead From the Front in 2014|
Aug. 27, 2014
“Leading from the front.”
It’s a simple message University of Cincinnati men’s soccer head coach Hylton Dayes has given his 14th Bearcats squad during preseason. He talks about everyone in red and black, from captains down through freshmen, leading from the front, by example.
“If we want to win, then you have to sacrifice something,” Dayes explained. “To win, it means everyone has to play a role.”
Dayes understands that his team struggled with results last year, going 6-12-1, but he believes that a group which returns all but one starter and adds 10 newcomers is out to prove Cincinnati soccer is still a force to be reckoned with.
“Our guys are out to prove we’re a much better team, a much better program,” he explained. “And so far they’re living up to it.”
The Bearcats biggest struggle in 2013 came on the attack. This season, Dayes envisions a skilled midfield setting up an explosive frontline. That midfield play begins with Alan Rovira (Simi Valley, Calif./Simi Valley), Ashani Walker (Kingston, Jamaica/Jamaica College) and Emmanuel Appiah (Westerville, Ohio/Westerville Cental). While Appiah battled injuries, Rovira and Walker were among the team’s leading scorers a season ago. This year, they will be relied upon to start the attack from the midfield.
“Alan is a senior, Ashani is a senior and Emmanuel is a redshirt junior in his fourth year,” Dayes explained. “Those guys all have something to prove and they want to send our seniors out the right way. They want to win.”
Those midfielders will set up forwards like John Manga (Louisville, Ky./Henry Clay) and junior transfer Terence Carter (London, England/London Nautical/Northeastern). Other players in the mix up front will include junior transfer Alejandro Garcia (Coral Springs, Fla./Taravella/Darton State) and Ohio’s 2014 Mr. Soccer, freshman Jack Clark (Mason, Ohio/Mason).
“There’s no question we have the ability to score goals,” Dayes said. “There are a number of guys, which is good because the teams you play can’t just guard one guy. It makes it more difficult to defend when you’re getting goals from unlikely sources.”
The attack proved successful in the team’s exhibition contests, a 5-1 win over Cincinnati State and a 4-1 decision over Evansville. Manga netted three of the team’s nine goals, while the remainder of scoring came from six different players.
If all goes as planned with the midfield starting the attack and the forwards converting, there is no doubt the defense will be strong. Solid defenders have been a trademark of Dayes’ teams at Cincinnati. A four-time All-American defender in his collegiate career at Wright State, the head coach takes special pride in his defense.
“My background is defense and we are always going to be organized (in the back),” he explained. “The thing this year is we’ve added to it.”
The biggest piece being “added” is redshirt junior Richardo Israel (Free Town, Jamaica/Lennon). Israel started as a freshman in 2012, helping the Bearcats record eight clean sheets, including a school-record six consecutive shutouts, and earning BIG EAST All-Rookie honors. Last season, he was a preseason All-American Athletic Conference selection before playing just six matches due to injury. Again a preseason all-league selection, Israel is expected to start along the backline with Gabriel Robinson (Easton, Pa./LaSalle), a junior who also battled injury problems last year, freshman Vebjorn Krovel (Aalesund, Norway) and redshirt sophomore transfer Austin Ladd (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington/Louisville).
That means Dayes’ first options off the bench will include senior captain Matt Remaley (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Mountain Vista), junior Ben Keane (Mount Laurel, N.J./Bishop Eustace Prep) and sophomore Miles Dale (Rochester Hills, Mich./Rochester). Each member of that group started at least 16 matches last season.
“Now what we have is great depth,” said Dayes. “We’ve got the right balance of defense and offense. We feel like we’re 28 deep. We have 28 guys, who on any given day, can contribute.”
That depth may be best shown by the team’s captains – Remaley and senior goalkeeper Taylor Hafling (Louisville, Ky./Male). Remaley has played in 56 career matches and made 32 starts, while Hafling was the starting keeper in 2012 when the team posted six consecutive clean sheets. Neither, however, are guaranteed to be in the starting 11 on Friday against Northern Kentucky.
Dayes believes the duo has been a perfect example for the team, demonstrating accountability regardless of the minutes any given player may see on the field.
“Taylor and Matt are two guys leading from the front,” Dayes says. “They lead by example. They get the word out about what needs to be done and they are holding each other accountable. At the end of the day, the other guys have no choice but to follow because when your captains are good leaders, they set the tone.”
Tone will be important, especially as the Bearcats are tested with five of the first six matches on the road.
“Our guys understand that to be a good team, you have to win on the road.” Dayes said. “We’re looking at how we can continue to build a team and how we continue to make progress. Well, we’re going to be tested right off the bat. It’s going to challenge us, but our team understands that if we meet and exceed this challenge, it’s going to set us up for a great season.”
The American Athletic Conference will again provide a daunting slate. UConn and USF were NCAA tournament teams a season ago, plus new addition Tulsa is a perennial NCAA competitor, as well. Dayes is especially anxious to welcome UConn to Gettler Stadium, as the sides only met four times as members of the BIG EAST Conference, with the Huskies winless in two previous trips to Clifton.
Cincinnati will also host the league’s two Florida schools, USF and UCF, for October night matches at Gettler. The Bearcats will make their first trip to Memphis since 2003, first trip to SMU since 2006 and first-ever trip to Tulsa.
“We’re still feeling our way (in the American), as are the other teams,” Dayes said. “Last year wasn’t a good year for us, so I think our guys might surprise them a little bit. We have a chip on our shoulder and feel like we can compete with any team in the league.”
The season opens on Friday, Aug. 29, with a match across the Ohio River at Northern Kentucky (7:00 p.m.). The home slate opens on Monday, Sept. 1, when Wright State visits for a 7:00 p.m. showdown.