Although his team will be young and inexperienced in certain spots, veteran West Virginia University men’s soccer coach Marlon LeBlanc likes what he will be working with when training camp begins in early August.
LeBlanc recently touched on his roster and what he expects from his players when they return to campus in a couple of weeks.
“We’ve got a good group,” he said. “I think we’re at the point now where we’re probably never rebuilding, but more so retooling. The incoming guys are going to be very, very good. Part of that is when you lose a big class you bring a big class in and there is a little bit more (scholarship money available).”
Indeed, LeBlanc was able to bring in a sizable and talented group of newcomers this year (nine with one transfer in Pitt’s Lee Johnston
) to supplement a returning cast that features 14 letterwinners, including junior forward Andy Bevin
, a second team all-MAC choice last year.
“I think the guys we have coming back played crucial minutes for us,” the 2006 national coach of the year pointed out. “We had one game last year when I think we started seven freshmen.”
LeBlanc said he was in a situation similar to this back in 2007 when he had to replace key players Dan Stratford, Reed Cooper and Andy Wright.
“Those guys played the bulk of the minutes,” LeBlanc said. “Fast forward to 2012, even though we had a big senior class, we had young guys who played a lot of minutes, so the experience is there. I’m not as concerned as I was probably heading into ’08 and having to rebuild with where I am right now.”
LeBlanc says his team should have the firepower necessary to put the ball into the back of the net this fall.
, it kind of goes without saying where he is; Ryan Cain
, Jamie Merriam
and Majed Osman
are all capable of scoring goals,” LeBlanc said. “For the first time in a long time I feel like I know where my goals are going to come from. I feel like, to an extent, I can count on those guys to produce.
“You don’t ever want to put too much pressure on them to the point where they clam up, but we’ve got a number of different guys who can bag goals for us.”
However, the areas where LeBlanc may have to spend a little more of his time this fall is in the midfield and the back where he must develop replacements for Travis Pittman, Uwem Etuk, Shadow Sebele and Eric Schoenle.
“Defensively, I’m not that concerned because our coaching of our defenders is pretty good,” he said. “I think we were top five in the country in fewest shots allowed last year. We’ve always been a stingy defensive team and we’re not going to concede a whole lot of goals. The question is are we going to have enough in terms of the creativity to get the ball to those forwards in good positions?”
In other words, can West Virginia’s defensive guys turn around and become playmakers when they get the ball back?
“That’s where we’re going to find out a little bit more about this group coming in preseason is do we have the qualities of a playmaker? Do we have the qualities of someone who can break you down and step up in big moments and produce assists and produce goals?” said LeBlanc.
“I think we’ve got some guys coming in who can do this, and I think we’ve got some guys returning that have shown these capabilities at different times. (Last) spring was important for us to be able to see that as well. Now, whether we can be consistent enough will determine how successful we are.”
One major factor benefitting the newcomers - as well as the returning guys - is the flexibility of LeBlanc’s system.
“I’ve always felt that if I put the best team on the field that we could find a way to adapt to whatever we need to adapt to,” he said. “We’ve changed our system and our formation multiple times. We’ve changed it multiple times in a game, but our philosophy stays the same - we want top technical players, guys who want to win, and great athletes.
“We don’t necessarily recruit for the system, we recruit the best players and build the system around the best players,” he concluded.