By: Adam Tortelli ~Staff Writer~
Replacing two current MLS-quality players isn’t easy, but that is the exact predicament that faces Xavier men’s soccer.
After an extraordinary 10-6-2 record, Andy Fleming’s squad must attempt to fill the void left by Nick Hagglund and Matt Walker (two players from last season’s team that are now receiving significant playing time in the MLS).
Finding All-Big East players is challenging in any sport, let alone trying to replace two in one season’s time.
Walker, now a member of the Columbus Crew, signed his professional contract mere weeks after the season disappointingly ended with a tough 1-0 loss to the then-No. 6 in the country, Butler, in the Big East championship.
Hagglund is now making waves across the league due to his stellar play for Toronto FC after they selected him in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.
However, at the end of the day, Walker and Hagglund were only two of the 30 players that helped the team nearly make the NCAA postseason tournament.
One thing about college athletics is that every team has holes to fill from one year to the next. Other players will fill these positions as the team works to improve once again.
The coaches may look to the incoming freshman class to step up and provide an immediate impact on the field.
Walker’s offensive load will certainly need to be addressed. Replacing a top goal scorer and leading assist man is by no means an easy task, but certainly a tangible task with the returning talent.
Senior midfielder Will Walker is a prime candidate to replace Matt Walker as a starter.
Will Walker was second on the team to only Matt Walker in total goals scored last season, and more touches will provide for more assist opportunities.
Other attackers vying to carry the load include sophomore forward Jalen Brown and junior forward Calum Latham (both were top-five goal scorers on the 2013 squad). More difficult to replace will be Nick Hagglund.
Hagglund was a key component of Andy Fleming’s back line for the past four years as he saw significant playing time since his freshman year, but his elite leadership over the past two seasons cannot be taught.
Perhaps his type of leadership is something that will not return to the field at Xavier for many years to come.
Countless reporters in the Cincinnati area and around the country have praised Hagglund for us unique knack for leadership. Hagglund is the type of occer player that will be sorely missed and can never replaced, but coach Fleming can only hope that a senior can step up into a new leadership role.
Those hoping to impact the team from top to bottom in the way Hagglund will have a difficult task trying to slide into that position.
Possible candidates this year include senior defensive midfielder Owen Steinwall and Junior Midfielder Alex Ridsdale.
Despite losing key players, there is certainly confidence in the team as they enter the season with many familiar faces. The Musketeers are returning multiple starters. There is enough experience on the team to withstand the tests and when the important games.
Men’s soccer opens the season versus Lipscomb on Aug. 2628 at Xavier Soccer Complex. Conference play begins Sept. 27 against the Red Storm of St. John’s.
As the beginning of the season approaches, Xavier will look to young talent and senior leaders to get off to a quick start. Building momentum going into conference play may be the key for the Musketeers as they look to continue on succes in recent years.