As Bob Reasso begins his 24th season at the helm of the Scarlet Knights, he eyes a bright future for this program. The return of eight starters to a team that won 11 matches last season gives the veteran mentor many reasons to smile when thinking ahead to the 2004 campaign. He is beginning to reap the benefits of a solid foundation of young talent that saw significant playing time in 2003, while mixing in the experience of eight seniors return, who their final season.
Absent from the abundance of veterans in Rutgers' starting lineup are its top three scorers from a year ago. The Scarlet Knights knew they would be without the services of last year's BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year and current DC United starting forward, Josh Gros and All-BIG EAST selection Ricardo Arenas. However, the program was dealt a setback when senior captain Chris Karcz suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg early in the summer and his status remains in uncertain for the 2004 season. Karcz, who led the BIG EAST in shots last season with 96 and finished 10th in the league in goals with seven, was expected to anchor the Scarlet Knights' offensive firepower. The three were responsible for 74 percent (31-of-42) of RU's goals last season.
Several young players are waiting in the wings and are anxious to contribute immediately. With many talented attackers, no one person will be expected to shoulder the load of the scoring punch for Rutgers this season.
"We are excited to step back out on the field this fall," said Reasso. "We will be a much different team from last year's squad. Last season we were a high-powered scoring team that produced a lot of goals. The loss of several key attackers from last season will be noticed, but we have such a great foundation of young talent anxious to contribute immediately. My staff did another outstanding job of recruiting this offseason allowing us to fill some holes around the field."
"Chris Karcz's season is in jeopardy," added Reasso. “That is a major blow to our squad. We will sorely miss him. He is a smart and dedicated individual and if anyone can come back from a major knee injury quickly, it is Chris.”
With the program's much-heralded 19-member 2003 recruiting class now a year older, bigger goals are expected for RU. Sophomores Nick LaBrocca, Bart Koffeman, Brinker Dailey, Joe Donoho, Larry Mark, Alieu Terry, Jason Pelletier and Lubos Ancin saw a significant amount of time last season and will be called upon for more prominent roles in 2004. Coupled with the program's nine seniors, competition should be fierce for a coveted starting spot on Reasso's 2004 squad.
The loss of standouts Todd Moser and Don Gray will definitely be felt in the defensive third, but Rutgers returns a number of talented defenders in seniors Anthony Schiavino and Pablo Ponce. Sophomore Bart Koffeman was a staple on the Rutgers back line last season. Fellow sophomores Alieu Terry, Jason Pelletier and Joe Donoho saw significant time on the field last season and may see increased roles in 2004.
The coaching staff put an emphasis on the defensive third during recruiting, resulting in the addition of five very skilled defenders that could earn a starting job right away. Juniors Abdul Kargbo and Keith Ritchings transferred in this season. Kargbo was a junior college All-American last season at Louisburg College, while Ritchings formerly played at Lehigh University, starting most of his freshman year in 2002. Freshmen Jake Martenson, one of the top high school defenders from Virginia, and Ryan Breznitsky, a New Jersey First Team All-State selection, could also play a prominent role this season on the back line. Ed Ohin could also contribute this season.
"We could put a veteran back four out there which is nice. There will, however, be a lot of competition. We wanted to strengthen that area in the offseason and I think we achieved that goal with the addition of Jake Martenson, Abdul Kargbo, Ryan Breznitsky, Keith Ritchings and Ed Ohin."
The Scarlet Knights will have a very experienced crop of midfielders for the 2004 season. Seniors Wes Kirk and Gustavo Mora have a wealth of experience, logging the majority of minutes the past two years. Fellow senior Pablo Ponce is fully recovered from injury and ready for an increased role. Sophomores Brinker Dailey, Nick LaBrocca, Larry Mark and Jason Pelletier played significant time as newcomers last season and will be called upon to produce even more in 2004. Dailey and LaBrocca each played in all 22 games, starting at least 19 contests a piece last season. LaBrocca finished fourth on the team in scoring with six points on two goals and two assists last season.
Junior Scott Gahagan saw more minutes on the field in 2003, making one start. Expect him to be a factor in the competition for a starting spot as well.
Redshirt freshmen Adam Sternberger and Warren Richards may see time as well in the midfield. Sternberger suffered a knee injury in exhibition action last season, which sidelined him for the remainder year.
Freshmen Ty Armstrong and Kyle Grato enter the fray with a wealth of scholastic credentials and may contribute right away.
"We are fortunate to have a solid group of players who can play a variety of roles in the midfield. With Wes Kirk, Larry Mark, Adam Sternberger and Warren Richards along with Nick LaBrocca and Brinker Dailey, we have many different options here. We are also excited for the development of freshmen Ty Armstrong and Kyle Grato, who could see time here as well."
The possible loss of its top three scorers from a 2003 squad that produced 41 goals will defiantly be felt. BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year Josh Gros and All-BIG EAST Third Team selection Ricardo Arenas are already absent from the roster. Chris Karcz's possible season-ending injury leaves the Scarlet Knights with a totally different look up front this season.
The addition of Andrew Herman, a former standout at American University, will help ease the loss of Karcz. Herman will be called upon to shoulder the load up front this season.
The Scarlet Knights also welcome back a healthy Brian Johnson. The senior was sidelined for a good portion of the 2003 season with an injury.
A wealth of talented freshmen could see important roles immediately. Tommy Gray, Kevin O'Connor and Zach Simi begin their first season with the Scarlet Knights, after outstanding high school careers in the attacking third. All three are proven goal scorers, whose adjustment period could be mimimal.
"We had one of the most vibrant attacks in the country last season, but unfortunately, this is a different year. We knew we would lose our biggest offensive threat in BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year and DC United starter Josh Gros, but we were dealt two other set backs with the loss of Ricardo Arenas and the possible loss of Chris Karcz for the season. Fortunately, we had a very good recruiting year. We brought in Andrew Herman who is a proven goal scorer at this level. Tommy Gray, Zach Simi and Kevin O'Connor are all great offensive talents with tremendous potential. We also have Brian Johnson coming back from injury and ready to contribute up front. We have enough tools on attack, we just need more experience."
The race for the Scarlet Knights' goalkeeper will be competitive throughout preseason camp. Incumbent Lubos Ancin owns the only game experience after earning the starting goalkeeper spot midway through last season. He compiled a 3-3-2 record in goal, posting one shutout. He finished the season with a 1.50 goals-against average.
Ancin will be pushed by redshirt freshman Billy Chiles, who sat out last season with an injury. Chiles, the winning goal keeper in the McDonald’s High School All-American game two seasons ago, will be fighting for the starting spot. Seniors George Vasilakis and Jon Bruno could both earn the starting keeper spot with impressive preseason workouts.
"We are as good in goal as we have ever been. We don't have as much experience as we have had in the past, but as far as athleticism and goalkeeping, this is one of our stronger positions. The starting job is open and there will be a lot of competition for that spot."
Rutgers annually schedules some of the toughest competition throughout the country and this season is no different with six NCAA Tournament participants from last season on the 2004 slate. In all, Rutgers will play 11 of its 18-match regular season schedule at the friendly confines of Yurcak Field. The Scarlet Knights will face four opponents which finished ranked among the top-25, including three in the top-10, of the 2003 final National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll.
The Scarlet Knights will tune up for the season with exhibition matches against Seton Hall and Ohio State.
"We are very excited for the upcoming season. I am thrilled to have 11 home games this year; it will be great for our fans. We are hosting a lot of very competitive teams at Yurcak Field this season and it should make for some very exciting matches."
RU will begin its quest for its 13th NCAA Tournament berth under Reasso with a Friday evening home contest against BIG EAST foe Pittsburgh on Sept. 3. Five days later, Monmouth (9/8) comes to Piscataway for a Wednesday evening matchup.
The regular season's second weekend will prove to be a pivotal one for Rutgers, with a trip to Norfolk, VA, to participate in the Old Dominion Tournament. Rutgers will open competition against William & Mary (9/10). The Scarlet Knights will close out the weekend tournament against the host Monarchs, who, like Rutgers, advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003.
RU will return home where it will play five of its next six games at Yurcak Field, highlighted by the 19th annual Philips/adidas Rutgers Classic. Considered one of the premiere in-season tournaments around the country, the 2004 version includes stiff competition in the College of Charleston (10/1) and Hartwick. (10/3). Prior to the tournament, Rutgers will host Atlantic-10 power Temple (9/15) and BIG EAST foe Providence (9/19). A road contest with Villanova (9/22) precludes what many consider to be one of the biggest non-conference opponents to come to Yurcak Field in this fall. The University of Michigan (9/24), travels to Piscataway for a Friday evening match to round out RU's September slate.
What has evolved into one of the fiercest rivalries in all of collegiate soccer will add a new chapter to its storied tradition on Oct. 6 as Rutgers and St. John's meet in Jamaica, NY.
A pair of home BIG EAST matches with Boston College (10/9) and Georgetown (10/13) follow, leading into a tough Saturday night contest with Connecticut (10/16) in Storrs, CT. A trip to Syracuse (10/20) to face the Orange rounds out the two-match road swing.
Rutgers winds down its regular-season slate with a pair of home games, culminating with a trip to West Virginia on Oct. 30. The Scarlet Knights will first play an always-exciting Saturday night match at Yurcak Field with Notre Dame (10/23).
Patriot League foe Lehigh (10/27) comes to Piscataway for the Scarlet Knights' home finale, prior to RU's regular-season finale with the Mountaineers.
Rutgers, which has made the eight-team post season BIG EAST Championship every season since joining the league in 1995, will serve as the host of the 2004 BIG EAST Championship with the semifinal and final rounds scheduled for Nov. 12 and Nov. 14 at Yurcak Field.