By Steve DiMiceli
One of the most difficult things about picking up and starting to write about Duquesne men’s soccer is that I’ll be getting to know the team along the way. I’m an avid soccer fan and I have been since the 1994 World Cup. I support Tottenham in the Premiership and I have the photo in front of White Heart Lane to prove it. I screamed till I nearly puked when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria and stayed up late or got up early to watch that magical run in 2002.
This preview might more aptly be titled a first impression, but I will try to give you as much insight on what to expect in 2013 as I can. I know and love the game, but I’ve never followed it closely at the NCAA level nor have I spent much time following the Dukes other than checking the results here and there. The hiring of head coach Chase Brooks peaked my interest. He took a Niagara program from MAAC mediocrity to the NCAA tournament and the 41st RPI his second year on the job. I don’t know if that kind of turn around is possible at Duquesne since the competition is a lot stiffer in the Atlantic 10. VCU and St Louis are regular top 25 programs. However, it’s difficult not to get excited by those kinds of early returns.
Brooks looks like a players coach and a teacher of the game. He’s very hands on with his players and gets right in the mix during warm up drills. He’s not animated on the bench, and he seems to have a realistic sense of the learning curve his team faces to implement his system. He presents as a student of the European game and from watching scrimmages and drills, he’s emphasizing one touch passing, quick ball movement and possession that begins at the back line and moves forward. I think it would be fair to call his style conservative based on what I’ve seen. He seems to understand that you can go backwards to go forwards. It’s difficult to get a full grasp of Brooks as a tactician watching two first halves, but he seemed to like playing 5 in the midfield with a single striker up top. Against CMU he played something of a 4-1-4-1 (4 defenders, 1 holding midfielder, 4 midfielders, 1 striker) which he abandoned for a 4-4-2. For the Wright St match, he employed more of a 4-2-3-1.
Sam Frymier is the only keeper I’ve seen play so I would assume he’s going to be the man in the net for the Dukes. The vocal sophomore provides Brooks with another coach on the field. He has strong hands and seems to read the play well. I believe the 6’6” Swede Max Knape will serve as the backup.
The Dukes’ defense will go a long way in determining how successful this team is now and into the future. Two of Brooks’ late recruiting additions should have an immediate impact. At left back, true freshman and former Rosenborg (Norway) youth team member Bendik Hellstroem should become one of the strongest players on the team. He handles the ball well on the flank and can put in a good cross when overlapping. He does get caught out of position and doesn’t always track back well. He needs to get stronger in the air, but overall, he has the potential to become a dangerous player for the Dukes.
Next to Hellstroem is another European player, Thomas de Villardi who transferred from a university in France as a sophomore. de Villardi marks well and is strong in the air. He seems to be the go to guy to get the ball from the defensive third into the midfield. He’s particularly adept at more direct passes to push the ball quickly.
Both times I’ve seen the Dukes, junior Matt Essig started at right back. There isn’t much flash to Essig’s game and truthfully, I didn’t notice him much. Of course not noticing a defender is often times a great complement. If playing time during the exhibition season is any indication, I suspect he will patrolling the right side.
Colin Phillips started at the other center back position against CMU but was in the midfield against Wright St. I think it would be fair to assume he’ll play. Where is the question. Nick DiSomma manned the middle alongside de Villardi and used his 6’3” frame to win a number of 50/50 balls into the box Sunday. True freshman Patrick Sullivan made a brief appearance at the end of the first half.
The back has some ball skills and they’ll have even more if Phillips is not needed in the midfield. Brooks needs more guys to play his style before he’ll make is mark, but he at least has a couple in amongst his defense.