Defense taking shape for men’s soccer

By Jacob Onak

With a number of offensive players returning to the fold for the men’s soccer team, there are still questions on the defensive side.

This season the Huskies will return just one of the starting back four: sophomore right back Charlie Oliver. They not only lose Mike Mascitti, Rocco Taglia and Pat Sloan themselves, but they also lose the experience and the leadership that those seniors gave them last season.

Head coach Eric Luzzi likes what he is seeing from Oliver early on in the year.

“Well, Charlie…he’s been really good,” Luzzi said. “He knows how to play that spot now, it’s not new to him, and talking about our attack, he has the potential to be a pretty good weapon for us as an outside back.”

The most likely person to start in on of the center back slots is junior Dusty Page. Out of the rest of the defenders on the squad Page has the most experience. He played in 11 games in 2012, starting 10 of them. Most of those games were at the start of the year; toward the end Page not only had an ankle injury but also lost his spot to Mascitti when he was moved into the midfield from the back four.

After Page it gets interesting: In preseason a player who was featured in the back was senior Sean Totsch. Throughout his career Totsch has been a midfielder mainly and has only seen a little time in defense.

Luzzi said Totsch’s overall ability gives him confidence to stick him anywhere on the field.

“Sean Totsch is just a really good soccer player,” Luzzi said. “You could play Sean at the holding spot, play Sean at center back, play Sean at striker. He’ll pick it up really quickly because he’s just a good soccer player.”

Another one to keep an eye on is junior Shawn Vroom. Vroom, who has not seen any action during his career, has come into preseason fighting for a spot now that he is fully recovered from a foot injury that kept him out all last year, which gives his coach confidence.

“Dusty is a year more mature,” Luzzi said. “Shawn Vroom is a year more mature and injury free and ridiculously fit right now so he’s been playing well.”

Oliver, who played in all of the Huskies’ matches last season, starting all but one, said this preseason has been all about getting the back four thinking as a group.

“I think we understand each other really well,” Oliver said. “…Communication-wise we’ve been stepping it up, and in the beginning of the preseason it was kind of rough for us to get everyone talking and get on the same page, but now it’s good.”

NIU will also have a couple of younger guys pushing for spots. Freshmen Richard Hall, Adam Lightner, Daegan DeBono and Cody Witkowski will push for spots and create competition for the back line.

Whoever the final defensive four will be, they will for sure have a test ahead of them as the Huskies are facing some tough competition this year, including Ohio State in the second game of the season on Sept. 1.