MEN’S SOCCER: Toppers head to Birmingham for tough test

Danny Schoenbaechler

Young eyes can sometimes be blind to the world. That could benefit Western’s men’s soccer team this weekend.

The Hilltoppers and their cast of five freshman starters are traveling to Birmingham, Ala., for the Birmingham Southern Fall Classic.

Western will play Alabama-Birmingham Friday night in its opening game. One preseason poll had UAB ranked as high as No. 10 in the nation.

But after some early season struggles, the Blazers’ record of 1-2-1 caused them to fall out of the top 25 this week.

The Blazers lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in overtime to Rhode Island Sunday.

Still, UAB is a formidable opponent. They have made it to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and defeated eventual national champion North Carolina early last season.

“This is a terrific opportunity for our guys and a terrific challenge,” Western coach David Holmes said.

The 4-0 Toppers are looking for a fifth straight win to start the season for the first time in 13 years.

“We’re still a young team,” Holmes said. “We’ve got lots of spirit, and we’ve got an attitude to go and play some attacking soccer.”

Freshman Jason Dugas is the leading scorer with three goals.

“We haven’t talked about UAB that much,” he said. “I have no doubt that we can play with them.”

Dugas has led a Western attack that has scored 13 goals in four games.

Besides Dugas, who has been coming off the bench, Western has revitalized its offense with youth and is starting two freshmen forwards and two to three freshmen midfielders.

“We have been playing really good lately,” Dugas said. “But we can still put some more goals away.”

The starters have been producing, but many on the team believe that depth is how they have been beating their opponents.

“We definitely have some depth,” Holmes said. “It really doesn’t matter if you start on this team.”

Sophomore Justin Goodman knows that depth has a lot to do with the play of the Toppers’ rookies.

“It’s been pretty remarkable,” he said. “Coming in, I didn’t know how the freshman would be, but they’ve played great.”

Western’s defense has also been solid, having shutout three of its four opponents.

Junior goalkeeper Daryl Sattler was named the most valuable defensive player of last week’s Louisville Seelbach Classic, which Western won.

In front of Sattler, freshman Clay McMillan, sophomores Scott DeGaris and Brad Benz, and juniors Jeremy Webber and Ron Plute have been making advances.

“We’ve got some room for improvement,” Holmes said. “We’re getting better every game, and that is exciting for a coach.”

The UAB game starts at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Then the Toppers will play Birmingham Southern at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]