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Point Park University men's soccer -- 2010 season outlook

Pioneers look to make strides under fourth-year coach Jeroen Walstra

Aug. 23, 2010

PITTSBURGH -- The Point Park University men’s soccer team begins the 2010 season with hopes of making big improvements from last year. The Pioneers suffered through a 1-15-1 record in 2009, but there is reason for fourth-year head coach Jeroen Walstra (pictured below) to expect that his team will fare better this season.



The 2010 season marks Walstra’s fourth year as head coach, and the native of the Netherlands is the longest-tenured coach in the history of the program. Prior to Walstra’s arrival in 2007, the program had 11 head coaches the previous 18 years and eight of those coaches were for two years or less. Indeed, Walstra has lent stability a program that has won a little more than 25 percent of its matches the last 20 years.

Another positive is that Walstra can focus his attention solely on the men’s team this year. For the last three seasons, he coached both the men’s and women’s programs at Point Park. He started his tenure at Point Park as women’s coach in 2003, and his duties in charge of both teams started in 2007, his first year coaching the men’s team.

This past may, Mark Platts was hired as head coach of the Point Park women’s soccer team after serving as an assistant coach at AMC rival Walsh University the last four years.

During his time coaching the Point Park men, Walstra has steadily laid a foundation for success. Part of that plan was put in place last year, but a run of injuries and eligibility issues kept him from having his full complement of players a season ago. The Pioneers had only four position players available for every game in 2009 as a host of players spent at least some portion of the season on the injured list.

According to Walstra, the midfield area is the strength of the this year’s team, and that position is also the key to the Pioneers’ success. Another improvement from last year that Walstra cites is that his team’s skill level and ability to possess the ball have  increased. An area of concern, according to Walstra, is a lack of depth.

A huge bonus for the Pioneers this year is the eligibility of Alex Sala, a midfielder from Austria who arrived at Point Park last season. Sala, a sophomore, had to sit out last season while gaining enough college credits to compete. But his availability on the field will be a big plus as he is the top midfielder for the Pioneers.

The Point Park defense has the benefit of junior goalkeeper Zeke O’Donnell (Butler/Butler), who is back for his second season as the starter. O’Donnell, who stands 6-foot-1, was second in the NAIA last year with 150 saves for an average of 8.8 saves per game. He started all 17 games last year.

The back row features returning starters Shane Lucas (West Homestead/Steel Valley), a junior captain, and Anthony Russo (Plum/Plum), a junior in his second year at Point Park after transferring from Pitt-Johnstown. Junior Wido Sagerer (Amtsberg. Germany) is in his second year at Point Park, but he was lost for the 2009 season due to a knee injury. A key newcomer to the unit is junior transfer Andres Escobar, a native of Colombia and a two-year starter at Lincoln (Ill.) College.

Other key returners for the Pioneers include junior midfielder/forward Miguel Alvarez (Arlington, Va./Yorktown), who has started every game of his career, as well as sophomores Francis Tabi (Kumasi, Ghana), Matt Annecchiarico (Woodbridge, Ontario) and Phil Malle (Pittsburgh/Langley). Alvarez and Tabi were the leading scorers in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

In addition to Escobar on defense, another top newcomer for the Pioneers is Manuel Schneckenreither, a very skilled freshman from Austria who could be used at either midfield or forward. Other top freshmen are midfielder Brett Gwosden (Elizabeth, Pa./Serra Catholic) and forward Matt Dziak (North Versailles/East Allegheny), who are expected to make impacts at their respective positions.

Point Park had no seniors last year, and they return nine starters from the 2009 squad. Point Park’s roster of 23 players is represented by four states and seven different countries (U.S., Canada, Austria, Colombia, Germany, Ghana and Guinea). Point Park has two seniors – Jeremy Olson (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) and Adelmo Palaza (West Homestead/Steel Valley).

Point Park opens its season Sept. 1 at home versus Franciscan. That and all other homes games are played at Founders Field in Cheswick, Pa. The season opener is the first of four games in eight days, which provides the Pioneers with key proving ground early in the year. Point Park will play 10 non-conference games in its 18-game schedule.

The Pioneers’ eight-game American Mideast Conference slate begins Sept. 17 versus Walsh. The top team in the AMC, according to the preseason coaches’ poll (Aug. 16) is Notre Dame (OH), which starts the season rated No. 7 in the NAIA preseason rankings. The top five in the AMC preseason picks are (in order): Mount Vernon Nazarene, Roberts Wesleyan, Houghton and Walsh.