Men's Soccer Kicks Off 2014 Season at Flames Field|
Aug. 28, 2014
CHICAGO – The UIC men’s soccer team will get its 2014 campaign underway with a pair of matches at Flames Field this weekend. The Flames take on Cal State Fullerton at 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday before squaring off with San Francisco at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“Each year, a new team is formed with returning players from the previous year plus the recruits,” said head coach Sean Phillips. “Our returning players bring the experience of a special 2013, but understand that this is a new year with new challenges. The recruits are an exciting group who, like the returning players, will make key contributions over the course of the season.”
UIC brings back six starters, 17 total letterwinners, from the 2013 squad that went 16-4-0 and had the winningest regular season in program history with 15 victories. Eight newcomers join the team to make up the squad of 25, which consists of two seniors, nine juniors, eight sophomores and six freshmen.
“We had a pretty special leadership group last year which had a dominant personality. Three of our most experienced and older players – Thomas Villamil, Jesus Torres and Goran Ikic – embraced the leadership role and have been growing into leaders. I know that there are other players in this group who have leadership traits and will seek the opportunity to lead this team.”
During the preseason, the Flames competed in three exhibition matches and went 1-2 with a 3-2 win against Saint Louis, while they fell to Wisconsin, 1-0, and Bradley, 3-1. Junior Jorge Alvarez scored twice for UIC, with freshmen Jose Fuentes and Sergio Fuentes picking up a goal apiece.
"This is a talented group whose personality is starting to take shape. I think we have a tremendously competitive group that could be the deepest team we have had here. We have a few injuries to take care of, a bit more fitness to build and experiences to give our younger players but I think we are heading in the right direction going into this weekend."
The Flames will be faced with a pair of unfamiliar opponents in Cal State Fullerton and San Francisco. Friday's matchup with the Titans will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams, while UIC and the Dons will go head-to-head for just the second time in program history after facing each other in 2003, when USF collected a 1-0 win.
“We have a great opportunity this weekend to test ourselves with two out-of-region opponents. Fullerton and USF have talented players from California and a sprinkling of international talent. Fullerton’s head coach George Kuntz has a great history with his teams at Irvine and USF head coach Eddie Soto played a big role in the success of UCLA over the past eight years. I expect both of the teams to play some great soccer, be thoroughly prepared and a challenge for us.”
Cal State Fullerton gets its 2014 season underway following a 6-11-1 2013 that resulted in a fourth-place finish in the Big West South with a 3-6-1 record. Seven of the Titans starters, including Big West Preseason All-Conference selection Ian Ramos, return for the upcoming season with 14 combined letterwinners, while they add 12 newcomers to the team.
San Francisco came away with a 2-1 win against No. 7 California in the preseason and is set to face No. 21 Wisconsin in its season-opener on Friday night. The Dons are coming off of a 7-11-2 season, with a 4-7-1 mark in the West Coast Conference for a fifth-place finish. They return seven starters and 14 total letterwinners, including leading scorers Miguel Aguilar and Jesus Del Toro, while welcoming 12 newcomers to the squad.
After hosting Cal State Fullerton and San Francisco, the Flames continue a challenging non-conference schedule with Michigan State, Drake, Northern Illinois, Creighton, DePaul, Denver and Loyola that will help them prepare for Horizon League competition, which gets underway on Sept. 26 at Oakland.
UIC captured the Horizon League regular season title in 2013 with a perfect 7-0-0 conference record, but came up just short in the championship match against Milwaukee. It will host Valparaiso, Detroit, Milwaukee and new affiliate Belmont, while it is set to travel to Oakland, Green Bay, Wright State and Cleveland State.
“The goal is to win the Horizon League regular season and tournament championships. Our expectation is that this, as it has been every year since I have been at UIC, will be very challenging. The Horizon League is a talented, deep, competitive and extremely underappreciated conference.”
The Flames were picked to finish second in the Horizon League preseason coaches’ poll, while sophomore Andrew Putna and Villamil were selected to the Players to Watch List on Thursday. Torres, a 2013 All-Great Lakes Region Third Team selection, Putna, the 2013 Horizon League Freshman and Goalkeeper of the Year, and Villamil all return after being named to All-League teams in 2013.