Necks hit the road to Oakland



Coach Johnson talks with his team.

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

Western Illinois University men’s regular soccer season opener kicks off against Oakland University on Friday. This will also be the Golden Grizzlies season opener as well, so both teams are looking to start off on a high note.

The game plan for the Leathernecks starts with a couple of formation options. A typical formation that may come out of the gate is a 4-4-2. However, Oakland is known to run a 3-5-2 and Western may want to match up with them in midfield.

Either way the teams will look to match up the best way possible, but the name of the game is scoring.

“We are trying to score goals in three ways. One from counter-attack by pressing the ball, two from buildup if we can play out of the back from the other teams’ low pressure we can switch the play and go from right to left through the midfield and even through the backline, and obviously from restarts,” said coach Eric Johnson, who seems to have his game plan already lined up and hopes his team can perform.

This first game looks like a difficult task for the Leathernecks as the Golden Grizzlies already have mauled some top tier talent.

Their first exhibition game they played was the No. 9 ranked Drake University and actually came out on top, 4-2. In their two exhibition games they have five goals and two wins, whereas Western has five goals in three games with one win and two ties.

A huge question for this game will be how the 10 newcomers will respond to the increased pressure of regular season play.

“They put the pressure on themselves… they want to play, so training has been intense and competitive and has led to good showings” coach Johnson said.

What seems to be intense training in practice is bound to lead to more wins for the Leathernecks.

The two players to look out for from Leathernecks roaster will be freshman midfielder Xavier Brown and senior defensive back Jamison Kozar. Brown scored his first goal last match and coach Johnson had some pleasing remarks about him after the game. Brown hasn’t quite earned a starting role yet, but look for him to come off the bench and help the team out with some fresh legs.

Kozar has been red hot in the exhibition games scoring in all three matches. After missing most of the season last year due to injury, he seems to be ready to play and make a huge impact for the Leathernecks.

The Golden Grizzlies will rely on junior forward Nebojsa Popvic and senior midfielder Jacob Moore.

Popvic had the second most goals on the team and lead the team with six assists tallying a total of 14 points last year. His talent up front lead too many goals and the Grizzlies will probably send the ball to him as much as possible.

Moore started all 17 games for the Golden Grizzlies and is a leader for the team. With the pressure mounting in the season opener look for him to calm the team down and have poise on the pitch.

The Leathernecks goal this year all starts with the first game. They hope to make it back to the NCAA tournament after a few years and it starts by getting to the Summit League Tournament at the end of the year. This game will help accomplish that goal.