Men’s soccer prepares for exhibition matches

Michael Harms, Courier Staff

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Western Illinois University Men’s soccer team prepares for their first exhibition match this Wednesday. They have two exhibition matches this season against Quincy University and this matchup, against the University of Illinois-Springfield.

They are coming off of a 4-10-3 season, looking for improvement as they finished second to last in conference play, going 1-3-1. With 11 new players last season, it was a rebuild for director of soccer operations Eric Johnson, but not without upside. The team seemed to improve as the year went on and can hopefully muster up more wins this year.

The team may have said goodbye to seven graduating players and six more that are no longer with Western, but Coach Johnson did not miss a beat bringing in 15 new players. In fact, the newcomers outnumber the returning players by two. Of the new group, five are international players including Daisuke Otsuka from Matsudo, Japan. Otsuka previously played for Tyler Junior College, tallying eight goals and starting two.

Of the group, the biggest standout may be Kyle Owen from Oklahoma City. The defenseman comes in with a ton of high school accolades including 2017 and 2018 All Conference and All District 1st team selection, and 2018 All-State Honorable Mention. The six-foot defenseman is looking to help replace graduating senior Jamison Kozar who helped lead the Leathernecks’ backline.

With such a large number of newcomers, the leadership on the field needs to be strong. The most likely candidate to lead this newly filled team is junior Paul Kirdorf. The midfielder from Germany earned his way onto the second team All-Summit last year, the only Leatherneck to earn an All-Summit selection for his play on the field.

The schedule makes for interesting pre-season matchups with Milwaukee University, Drake University and Green Bay, all teams Western played a year before, but adds some excitement playing Northwestern University on September 12. However, no one will be harder than their Summit League opponent Denver University who currently ranks No. 11 in the entire country. They will be the team to beat in conference and the Leathernecks’ toughest opponent.

This is a team with very little playing time together and will need to find chemistry quickly to rack up wins. In the front to help put goals on the board is returning forward Xavier Brown. Last year ,Brown excited fans with his explosive speed and large personality. He has tremendous talent on the pitch and will look to improve this year.

In goal once again will be Tim Trilk. The senior from Rockford, Ill. has been a Leatherneck since his freshman year and started for two years, his highlight year being his sophomore with two Summit League Defensive Player of the Week awards and 51 saves. He did not pick up any awards this year, but managed to improve to 53 saves and three shutouts. His leadership will be an important factor in getting his defensive line up to speed in the early part of the season.

With a few strong returning pieces and an abundance of talent, Coach Johnson should have no problem getting the best from his players. The first look of the team will be this Wednesday for an exhibition match with the regular season right around the corner.

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