Ushering in a large and talented recruiting class of 11 true freshmen to complement a solid batch of returning players, head coach Chuck Bechtol likes Linfield’s potential for improvement in his second season with the program.
With increased athleticism and depth, the Wildcats look to gain further ground in the Northwest Conference men’s soccer pecking order after a turnaround season that included five more wins and 23 more goals than what was achieved the year before.
“We’re definitely more athletic than we’ve been in the past and have better all-around players,” Bechtol said of the 2013 Wildcats. Referencing both rookies and veterans, he added, “Some of the guys are going to translate into immediate success based on what I’ve seen.”
Though the Wildcats are young – the team boasts just three freshmen as opposed to 17 underclassmen – the experience gained through high-level club programs should help prepare them for the physical and mental demands of the collegiate game.
“For some of the guys it’s going to be a little more fast-paced, but hopefully our training sessions have showed what it’s going to be like,” Bechtol said.
Linfield returns some firepower on the offensive side of the pitch, specifically in Jake Baker, Domenico Del Prete and Tyler Repic. The three combined for 18 of Linfield’s 29 goals in 2012, and 10 of the team’s 14 assists.
Del Prete, the leading scorer in the Northwest Conference a season ago, returns with even more experience and maturity on the field. Baker looks to be more fit and fluid with his play in his second season of collegiate soccer after spending two years away from the sport. Similarly, Repic is now a full year removed from an injury that cost him all of the 2011 season.
Defensively, the Wildcat roster features three goalkeepers, including two newcomers, and should benefit greatly from the skill and leadership of Harper Taylor on the back line.
In addition to greater athleticism, the improved talent of the Wildcat roster allows for greater versatility with regard to formations, further elevating Linfield’s opportunities for success.
The added depth, particularly in the midfield, also allows Bechtol and his coaching staff to do a better job of managing minutes for players throughout a long season that begins Aug. 30 against Bellevue College and lasts at least though the Nov. 9 regular-season finale against Willamette.
In a conference that is tough from top to bottom and has crowned three different champions in each of the past three years, transforming the Linfield program into a regular title contender is not an overnight process. But one thing is certain: the Wildcats will compete.
“I love the possibilities of seeing how we do against some of the top-tier teams,” Bechtol said. “Every team is going to be good, so it’s a matter of if we can keep even-keeled and get better every week.”