Sara Kovach, Videographer
The Tommie men’s soccer team has been working hard since Aug. 18 to shape together a team that can compete and continue the success it had last season.
Head coach Aaron Macke and the rest of the coaching staff set the final roster on Aug. 23, cutting the 76 players who showed up for tryouts down to a final 39-man roster.
With 20 returners, this year’s team has many familiar faces, but with the loss of graduated seniors John Stillwell and Derek Engler, the style of play has changed.
Last year Macke ran four defensemen, four midfielders and three forwards. With Stillwell at the front, Macke felt that last year’s squad was an offensively dynamic group. The team was able to score 36 goals on the season, but Macke acknowledged that the offense-minded system made the team more vulnerable defensively, giving up 32 goals to their opponents.
This year Macke is dropping a forward back to midfield, running a 4-4-2 in hopes of giving up fewer goals and strengthening the defense.
“Instead of trying to replace certain players who gave us a particular value last year, we are making broader adjustments so that we are … playing to the strengths of our core group this year, which is a little more defensive-minded, a little more organized.” Macke said. “Then we try and build our offense from our defense.”
Fifth-year senior Carlos Castelan anchors the team as he returns for his second year starting as goalkeeper. Castelan received All-MIAC honorable mention last year with five shutouts in conference play, and he wants to build on that this season.
“It’s more of a team effort than anything,” Castelan said. “Goalies are going to get scored on whenever, so it is more about the team playing well together and playing good defense. And we have a good back line this year, so I am hoping to do better.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Tommies will be looking to All-MIAC sophomore forward Mike Hutton. As a freshman, Hutton lead the Tommies with 13 goals and five assists.
“[Hutton] had a big year as a freshman and was highly recruited by many programs,” Macke said. “But he has to avoid what happens to a lot of freshmen. Unfortunately they have big first years, and they come back and have slow second years. So it will be a unique challenge for him this year to see if he can build on last year and not drop back.”
Hutton continued his success from last year in this season’s game against Northwestern College in Roseville on Sept. 1, scoring the Tommies’ lone goal. Hutton was a large part of the 12-6-1 record last season, and with the win at Northwestern, St. Thomas is now 12-1 when Hutton scores a goal.
“That kid just has a knack for the back of the goal,” junior defenseman Reid Moser-Bleil said about Hutton.
In addition to the returning stars, a lot of new players are getting important roles early in the season. Moser-Bleil has stepped up and become a leader on and off the field.
Four freshmen who made the varsity squad last year are also seeing significant increases in playing time. Among them is sophomore Colten Llewellyn. Llewellyn came off the bench last year as a midfielder and is now starting. Macke speaks highly of his athletic ability, as well as his discipline on the field.
“He has seen his production level and his importance on the team increase dramatically,” Macke said. “It’s nice seeing a sophomore be able to take on that kind of a leadership role.”
This year’s freshmen class has more depth, according to Macke. Macke expects bigger numbers of guys to come in right away and contribute on the varsity squad or start on junior varsity and move up.
Freshmen Josh Pozner won a starting spot as a midfielder. Pozner was recruited from Blackhawks club team and also played for Roseville High School.
“[Pozner] has come in and won us over early on,” Macke said. “We knew what he could do coming in because we recruited him.”
The Tommies will be tested early with a tough road schedule, playing four of their six non-conference games on the road and beginning the MIAC season with three straight road games. Road games were a challenge for the team last year, which had an away record of 2-6-1. Home-field advantage was a big factor into the Tommies’ fourth place MIAC finish, as the team went undefeated in 10 home games.
“Part of it may be that we train on our home field,” Macke said. “Our field is 110 yards long, where most are 115 or 120, but actually I think it had more to do just with how the schedule laid out.”
Overall, Macke and the team have high expectations for the season and hope to offer fans some exciting games. The coach does not expect high scoring games as in years past, but the defensive strength will give them a good chance to win some games.
“I hope [fans] can expect an energetic team, high-pressured defense, exciting offense,” Macke said. “You are going to see more a more organized, defensive and disciplined team.”
Moser-Bleil and Castelan also feel that the team is strong and has a lot of talent. With the help of all the guys on the roster, they hope to win the MIAC and make the NCAA tournament.
Macke knows that a lot goes into the team’s success. Players need to show up and play and be able to cope with all the different aspects of being college students. The coaching staff has to work hard to keep the players focused and healthy to give them a chance to win the MIAC.
“Every team right now is 0-0 in the MIAC, and everyone [has] a shot,” Macke said.
Brian Matthews can be reached at email@example.com.