With a majority of players returning, Park University men's soccer head coach Efrem Shimlis is expecting to surpass an early exit in last year's American Midwest Conference Tournament and turn things around after posting back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in program history following a 6-10-1 record in 2012.
Park was picked fifth in the AMC preseason poll this season, the same spot it finished last year after a 3-4-1 record in conference play and a loss in the AMC Tournament Quarterfinals, after reaching the finals each of the previous three seasons.
"We expect to do better than we did last year because we have so many players returning," said Shimlis, entering his 13th season. "There are several seniors that we are hoping to step up to make sure we don't repeat what happened last year. The guys are working hard but we'll just have to wait and see. Our practices have been good with a lot of enthusiasm and the guys have had a great attitude throughout the preseason."
The Pirates return 15 contributors from a year ago, including three players that earned postseason accolades from the AMC, including Carlos Trombini Filho, an AMC First-Team All-Conference honoree. Sophomores Lucas Sousa and Ignacio Flores Garay received AMC All-Conference Honorable Mention accolades for their play in 2012 each posting seven points, which tied for fifth on the squad.
Trombini Filho, one of three captains with fellow seniors Kiel Williams and Ronaldo Falcao, headlines the offense as the top returning scorer after tallying four goals (two game winners) and five assists for 13 points as a central midfielder last season. Williams and Falcao combined to add nine points from the midfield.
Offensive balance is a focal point for Park again this season. Without having to rely on one primary goal scorer, the Pirates aim to spread the attack similar to what they did in 2012 with 12 different players scoring at least one goal.
"The players understand the need to play together and are more comfortable as a team this year. Soccer is a team sport and we need everyone to step up," added Shimlis. "We can only hope the time maturing as a group will pay off this season."
Junior George Kennedy, an AMC All-Conference Honorable Mention selection as a freshman in 2011, returns as a scoring threat for Park having scored six career goals, including four game winners. Senior Nermin Abidovic is making the transition from back to front while incoming freshmen Javier Tobar (San Salvador, El Salvador) and Mario Erpel (Osorno, Chile) provide Coach Shimlis with added speed and depth at forward.
The Pirates return six midfielders from last year, including the aforementioned Trombini Filho, Sousa, Williams, and Falcao. Sophomore Maximiliano Albayay provides versatility to the lineup after being the only player for Park to play in and start all 17 matches a year ago.
Back from an early-season injury that cost him most of 2012, sophomore Andreas Sharpe Yacometti looks to build on what started as a fantastic season earning AMC Player of the Week honors the opening week to help the Pirates in the midfield. Sharpe Yacometti tallied a pair of goals in only four matches played.
After allowing just 12 goals in eight conference matches a year ago, the Park back line looks even more poised to shut down the opposition in 2013 with the return of every defender. Flores Garay, Andre D'Elia, Gabriel Alves, Johans Buchholz, and Nick Cintron return while newcomer Sherrick Hilaire, an All-Region VI Second-Team and Kansas Jayhawk Conference All-Conference First-Team honoree last year while at Johnson County Community College, Darton State College transfer Bruno Andre, and freshman Austin Generaux are added to the mix.
"We are hoping the new transfers will make an impact and help us out defensively," said Shimlis. "You then add in the several freshmen coming in to compete for spots right away and we have a lot of good, technical players, so we need to play according to their styles."
Returning to mind the goals for the Pirates with tremendous talent and familiarity are senior goalkeepers Ryan Miller and Reece Harris. The duo split most of the minutes in 2012 posting nearly identical numbers and has combined for 11 career shutouts for Park.
"With a pair of senior keepers, we can't go wrong with either of them, so that is exciting," said Shimlis. "Then we add in Joey (Harris) and we become even stronger in goal. Now we just have to figure out who is going to get the majority of the playing time."
The Pirates will match up against four nationally ranked teams and two others receiving votes in 2013 according to the NAIA Men's Soccer Coaches' Preseason Top 25 Poll. With six of its 15 regular-season matches against ranked teams, Park experiences one of the toughest schedules in the nation facing a pair of top-10 teams in No. 5 MidAmerica Nazarene (Sept. 25) and No. 7 Hannibal-LaGrange (Oct. 9).
"Park has always played a tough schedule and obviously the AMC is very strong again this year; then we add in some good non-conference matches," added Shimlis. "Playing top teams is good for our conference and our players."
Park opens the 2013 campaign on the road at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kan., Tuesday (Aug. 27) followed by a two-week layoff prior to its home opener against Baker, a team receiving votes, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.