Baltimore, Md. -
By Terence Foy
Who knew, a year removed from losing a talented crop of seniors that included All-MAAC mainstays Omar Alfonso, Rade Kokovic, and Gabe Ortega, that the Loyola's men's soccer team would jump out to a 9-2 start?
"It wouldn't be smart not to recognize the very talented players that we lost," sophomore forward Jamie Darvill said. "But I think the players that have come in have shown that they can step into their shoes without any doubt, as the result have shown has well."
Darvill's point belies the second question: who would have said the Greyhounds would put up such an impressive record with a lineup that featured five freshmen and a goaltender in his first year as a starter?
With all the new faces, head coach Mark Mettrick hopes to surprise opponents and ride the momentum started after last season through the upcoming MAAC regular season schedule.
"This team wants to win, and the freshman came in and joined the group with that approach," Mettrick said. "It's important to recognize that it's not just the young lads that have come in and done well, but there was a good group in the spring so they have really joined on a momentum that had begun."
The surprises start up top where Phil Bannister, in his first year out of Monkseaton in Newcastle, has paced the Hounds with seven goals and three assists in starting all 11 games. Mettrick points out that, though Bannister benefits from his teammates' hard work, he has the requisite flair to score important goals.
"Phil is a blend of talent and toughness," Mettrick said of the freshman who broke his hand in the season's third game. "He's got a bit of class about it -- he'll bring it down a ball and sidefoot it, while a lot of guys will crush it."
Midfielder Eddie Dines, Bannister's high school teammate, is the team's engine. Mettrick praises his ability to run all over the field and loves his toughness and says he embodies his staff's recruiting shift away from focusing on talent to trying to find players that "wanted to win." Dines's presence at Loyola, much less in the midfield, has made Bannister's transition easier, as well.
"It's amazing really," Bannister said. "We got offered together so to actually know someone makes it a lot easier coming over to a place where you don't know anyone."
Mike Deasel, who at this time last year was trying to win a title at Loyola Blakefield, has become a proto-defensive midfielder for the Hounds.
"He looks like he's been playing this for years," Mettrick said. "He hasn't, he's a freshman. He's a defensive middie, he's not scoring -- that's not his job -- he's breaking the play, passing, starting the offense."
Sophomore Milos Kocic has stepped in to post six shutouts and make 39 stops in replacing Justin Chelland. At 6-4, Kocic is an imposing figure that has done well teaming with centerbacks Josh Taylor, a soft-spoken junior, and Tennant McVea, a boisterous sophomore who is still improving, to form a backbone that Mettrick points to as the key to the Greyhounds' success.
"He's got a great presence," Mettrick said. "If you go in there in the six-yard box, you'll take a look to see where he is. He's big, he will come out, and he's aggressive. If you have that as a goalkeeper it's a huge advantage."
The new look roster isn't the only thing that will surprise Loyola fans when they head out to Geppi-Aikens Field and see the 2007 Hounds. To start, Mettrick's squad has found themselves on the positive side of one-goal games, a problem that plagued last year's more experienced team.
"Obviously the team has got a lot of character, especially the young lads that have come in have got a lot of character," Darvill said. "They don't give up and try to get results. We've played similar teams as last year and instead of coming away with a one goal loss, we've come away with that one-goal win."
Also, the Greyhounds have a decidedly European feel to their team, starting three English players in Darvill, Dines, and Bannister, a Serbian in Kocic, and McVea, who is from Northern Ireland.
"We definitely have a flavor that is British in Baltimore," Mettrick said. "We even ate crabs in the preseason. The British lads had a go at it, they realized it was something they needed to do being here. We were going to go to Fort McHenry and do the British-Baltimore thing, too, which is something we've done in the past."
It's a good introduction for a crop of players that need one, because though they may be new, they'll be familiar before long.