BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - The Union College men's soccer team opens its 2013 season this weekend, and the Bulldogs look to bounce back from a rebuilding season in 2012. The squad will be led by head coach Tyler Brock, who is entering his 11th season at the helm. The veteran head coach is optimistic about the team's chances entering the season.
"It was a difficult year last year, but we got a lot of playing time for a lot of our younger guys," said Brock. "We had no seniors last year, so we have a lot of players returning with a lot of experience.
"We are definitely excited about this year's recruiting class. I know a lot of people say it but in the 11 years I've been here I've never had a class like this."
The Bulldogs return 12 players from last year's rosters. Leading the way is Senior Jonathan Watson, who was an All-AAC selection last season in the midfield for the second straight season after scoring a team high 12 goals.
In the early part of the season, Watson will revert to the back line to replace sophomore Alfie Caruso, who will sit out the first couple of matches nursing a knee injury. Last season Caruso started all 17 matches for the Bulldogs on defense, and contributed offensively, as well, scoring three goals (with five assists). Other returners include junior defender Hugo Sanchez and sophomore forward Jordan Johnson.
In the middle, the Bulldogs are chock full of talent and experience. Pacing the group is senior Joe Butcher, who was an All-AAC selection last year at the position after recording 13 assists (the second highest mark in the entire AAC). Sophomore Dino Sefer also returns, who last season was inserted into the lineup in the second half of the year and contributed immediately, scoring three goals in eight matches.
Meanwhile, sophomores Ashton Johnson, Dawson Marcum return to the midfield after logging playing time in several matches last season, and Thales Galan returns to the lineup after a year absence from the program (he started 13 matches in 2011). Another player to look out for in the middle is senior Callum Tychowski, who was on the team's roster last season. Tychowski joined the program a season ago from Burlington County Community College.
In goal, Juan Gallegos returns. Last season the senior - who transferred into the program before the season from Kankakee Community College - started nine matches with 41 saves.
Brock expects several new members of the Bulldog roster to contribute immediately.
First, in goal, junior transfer CJ Hopkins looks to battle for playing time with Gallegos. Hopkins comes into the Union program from Roehampton University in London. Several other transfers will also look to contribute, including juniors Leo Moraes and Victor Lima, who joins the team from Georgia Gwinnett, along with redshirt freshman forward Alex Smith, who comes into the program from Maine-Fort Kent.
Several true freshmen a part of a talented recruiting class hauled in by Brock, and assistant coaches Jonathan Shaw and Oniqueky Samuels, will look to contribute from the start. Included in the group is defender Steve Moore, an Essex, England native who has been a surprise to the staff in the preseason.
Other freshman players who look to contribute include midfielders Josh Arberry, Maurico Perini, Erik Holmqvist, Andre Scott, and Rasid Samjilovic, forwards Josh Reed, James Paull, Forrest Schmitt and Jon Langley, and defenders George Carroll and Jason Jacobs.
Union opens their 2013 slate Friday, hosting the inaugural Thomas Trammel Memorial Classic at Burch/Nau Field, honoring the former Bulldog defender (2003-06) who tragically passed away last September. In the Classic, the Bulldogs will play Emmanuel (Ga.) on Friday, then host Southern Poly (Ga.) to close things out on Aug. 31.
Following out-of-conference home matches with Brescia (Ky.) on Sept. 4 and Cumberland (Tenn.) on Sept. 7, the Bulldogs open AAC play against Truett-McConnell on Sept. 10. Union ends a string of six straight matches at home to start the year on Sept. 14, hosting Reinhardt (Ga.) in an AAC tilt.
The rest of the schedule sees the Bulldogs play regular AAC competition, along with several traditional out-of-conference rivals, including Cumberlands (Ky.) at home on Oct. 12. The team will also host their annual Homecoming match on Oct. 5, hosting Asbury (Ky.)
The team's regular season ends Nov. 2 at home vs. Montreat (N.C.), while the AAC Tournament begins Nov. 6
To view Union's full 2013 schedule, click here.
Overall, the team has been picked fifth in the AAC's annual Preseason Coaches Poll, something that Brock and his Bulldogs hope to prove was not the case by the end of the season.
"I think we're going to surprise a lot of people," he said. "We were picked fifth in the preseason poll, which is fine with me because we have to prove ourselves still. But, from what I've seen from this team already I think winning the conference is an obtainable goal for this year and the guys are training that way. They are hungry, and it's really nice to see."