Blue Demons Challenge No. 21 Drake in Men's Soccer Opener
CHICAGO - Alex Mangan and Steffen Vroom are best friends who haven't had much of a chance to team up in their Blue Demon careers.
Each has sat out a season because of injury, and they've only played a full season together once in the last three years.
They're both ready to go this year, and that bodes well for DePaul , which opens the 2009 men's soccer season at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Drake looking to get a lot more offensive.
Drake returns 10 starters from last year's 13-5-1 team that received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and is ranked No. 21 in the College Soccer News preseason national poll. The Blue Demons open up at home with a 4 p.m. match Saturday against Green Bay at Wish Field.
''We want to put the ball in the net a lot more this season,'' said DePaul coach Craig Blazer. ''We do a great job of holding the ball. We just need more of an attacking mindset---taking more chances.
''Vroom was second-team, All-BIG EAST last year and opposing defenses had to always be aware of him. Now with Mangan back---he is one of our best players inside the penalty area. Teams can't just focus on Vroom anymore.''
Mangan had a team-high seven goals two years ago and a team-high five goals in 2006 when Vroom was out. Last year with Mangan cheering from the sideline, Vroom led the Blue Demons with four goals.
''People are going to look to Alex and I for scoring,'' said Vroom, who was named to the All-BIG EAST preseason team. ''He just has a knack for finding the back of the net.''
Mangan was DePaul's leading goal-scorer his first two years, including five in 2006. He enters the season tied for 19th in career points with 25.
''Last year was a tough experience for me,'' Mangan said. ''But I'm really excited to get back out there and give my team everything I have.
''Steffen can play any position, but he has found his niche up top. He is a very dangerous forward.''
Blazer believes his team is ready to take care of some unfinished business.
''After making it to the NCAA tournament in 2007, we were all disappointed at not getting into the tournament last year,'' Blazer said. ''It left a bad taste in our mouth, but we didn't do enough to get there. Losing to Valparaiso at home really hurt us.''
Led by this year's nucleus of Vroom, Patrick Hopkins, Mark Plotkin, Nathan Feltz, Peter Sterbenz and Erich Reichmann---who accounted for 12 of the team's 13 goals---DePaul advanced to the BIG EAST Conference semifinals for a second-straight season.
''Our biggest challenge is getting off to a fast start,'' Blazer said. ''The soccer season is so short.''
Another big challenge will be replacing All-BIG EAST goalkeeper Brian Visser, who played this season with the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer League.
Eric Sorby emerged in the preseason as the successor to Visser, beating out senior Mike Williams. and freshmen Joe Ferrari and Richie Podjasek in a close competition.
''Yes, we found our goalkeeper in the preseason, and it's Eric Sorby,'' Blazer said about the freshman from Mundelein who follows Visser, the best goalie in DePaul history. ''His command of the box is very good, and he played very well against one of the premier teams (Indiana) in the country.
''The other players have confidence in him, and I'm excited he's going to get better and better.''
With seven returning starters from last year's 9-7-4 ballclub that went 5-4-2 in the competitive BIG EAST, the Blue Demons are ready for another run at the conference final four and beyond.
The BIG EAST coaches tabbed DePaul for a fourth-place finish in the Red Division with St. John's designated as the division favorite. Notre Dame was chosen as the top team in the Blue Division.
NOTES: A freshman who performed well in a 1-1 preseason tie with Northern Illinois and a 3-0 preseason loss to Indiana was midfielder Antonio Aguilar... senior defender Hopkins scored the lone goal of the preseason with the assist going to senior defender Feltz... others who stood out in the exhibition season were sophomore defender/midfielder Scott Freundlich, junior midfielder Andre Gutierrez, senior defender/midfielder Sterbenz and sophomore defender John Jandl... Drake, picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference, upset No. 7 Indiana 2-1 last week at the National Soccer Festival in Ft. Wayne, Ind... the Bulldogs are led by seniors Garrett Webb and Kevin Shrout who were both named to the Hermann Trophy Watch List as the top players in the country... Green Bay is picked to finish fifth in the Horizon League after going 6-7-5 last season... the Phoenix are led by juniors JC Banks and David Prochazka and senior David Znaty.