Men’s soccer follows in championship footsteps with new boots

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Men’s soccer follows in championship footsteps with new boots

Nowshin Chowdhury

Nowshin Chowdhury

Nowshin Chowdhury

Sam Schlenner, Sports Editor

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After losing eight seniors, men’s soccer is about to enter a transition year, or recalibration, as head coach Eric Pogue said. Almost a third of the Golden Grizzlies are true freshmen.

Oakland has a chance to win its third Horizon League Championship in three years.

“The blueprint’s been written,” Pogue said. “And now it’s just a matter of, are we going to remember that, believe in the process that it takes to be a championship-level team, buy in with a bunch of new, talented players?”

It’s as simple as that.

And the living’s easy

Unlike football and basketball, NCAA soccer isn’t allowed mandatory practice or training in the summer, which means three months of limbo. There’s time to improve, and time to do the opposite.

“Doing what you need to do isn’t required,” Pogue said. “But neither is playing time.”

And neither is a Horizon League title, he said.

Players train on their own. They can use Oakland’s workout facilities as long as they’re not incoming freshmen. Some play or train with summer teams like the Michigan Bucks, Michigan Stars or Lansing United.

Pogue said by mid-July, many take a bit of down time before reporting at Oakland. But the day of reckoning (training) is Wednesday, August 10 and the first game is Saturday, August 13. Pogue does that on purpose.

The team is so young, he wants to match them against Division-I competition as soon as possible to find out what works and what doesn’t. Better than finding out later.

“With a new team it’s going to take some time,” Pogue said.

They’ve got a lot of talent, but in general they’re green.

“We might not look like the exact same team we’ve been in the past, in terms of how we play,” Pogue said, “but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be successful. Even on a veteran-laden team the last couple of years we’ve come out of the gate and haven’t got the results that we’ve always wanted.”

He schedules like men’s basketball head coach Greg Kampe: Tough non-conference games to temper the team before the conference play. You’d rather be surprised by the Big 10 than by the Horizon League.

Pogue said you want peak performance at the end instead of the beginning. Nobody remembers the start of the season if you give them a good conclusion.

The philosophy fits, what with the three days of official practice before the first game. The players have to get acclimated fast. Pogue said they’re savoring this chance.

“I don’t promise starting spots to anybody that I recruit,” he said. “That’ll all be determined the minute they step onto the practice field.”

Seniority, scholarships, past recognition? They don’t matter. However, there will be more chances to play than in years past.

Pogue imagines his team will be deeper this year. Instead of playing 13-14 guys, he expects he’ll play 16-18.

But the number won’t matter if the culture isn’t right. You’ve got to buy in, Pogue said.

Schedule

Oakland kicks off the season with three exhibition matches — at Bowling Green at 7 p.m. on August 13, home versus Akron at 7 p.m. on Monday, August 15, and at Indiana at 7:30 p.m. on August 18.

The regular season begins with a two-game stretch in Columbus, Ohio, versus UC Santa Barbara and Virginia Tech on August 26 and 28, respectively, followed by a visit to Penn State on September 5.

League play starts at home with Northern Kentucky at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 10.

Oakland plays Michigan State at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14.

Pogue expects that out of the schedule, Akron, Indiana, UCSB, Penn State and Michigan State could be in the top 10-15 in the country.

Some returning key contributors are Austin Ricci, Alex Serwatka, Chase Jabbori and Brendan Woodfull.

And then there’s the bank of young guys who now have the opportunity to step up.