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Contact: Joey Daniels, firstname.lastname@example.org
DAHLONEGA, GA- The North Georgia men's soccer team opens up the season this weekend, traveling to south Florida for a pair of non-conference games against a pair of Sunshine State Conference members in Nova Southeastern University and Barry University.
The trip will definitely challenge a young North Georgia squad and should provide them with a confidence boost to start the season. Here's a preview of the upcoming opponents for the Saints this weekend:
Nova Southeastern University Sharks
2010 record: 8-6-2 (4-4-0 SSC, 5th in conference)
Starters lost: 8
Starters returning: 3
Goal differential last season: +4
What's good? NSU has eight returning letterwinners on a team that is well coached. Head coach Guiseppe DePalo is entering his 13th season at the helm of the Sharks, with a 131-80-21 record he is no stranger to success. Matt Ilter returns to the team after scoring four goals last season, which was tied for second on the team. The bottom four teams of the SSC are quite comparable this season. If they perform well against these teams, Nova should find a way to win games within the conference.
What's bad? The Sharks and head coach Guiseppe DePalo have the daunting task of replacing eight starters from a team that finished .500 (4-4) last year. They must find a consistent replacement for goalkeeper Lyle Howe, who started all 16 games for the Sharks last season, as well as finding a new scoring threat with the departure of last season's team leading scorer Aly Hassan to graduation.
Prediction: With the likes of Rollins, Barry, Carson Newman, West Florida and Tampa on the schedule, and one that has non-conference opponents holding an 81-42-13 overall record from last season, the Sharks will find themselves challenged in plenty of matches.
The Sharks are predicted to finish sixth in the nine-team league in a recently conducted coach's poll. NSU still has a bad taste in their mouth after getting drubbed in the SSC conference tournament last year, 5-0, at the hands of Tampa in the opening round. Improving their record from last season in a loaded conference (three teams ranked in preseason top 25) will be a tall order.
How the Saints match-up: This is the regular season opener for both teams this season. The Saints are talented and experienced, but they must play like it to get the result.
The Saints have had a steady defense over the past couple of years and this season should be no different. If the backs and keeper Rade Tanaskovic play well, North Georgia should emerge with their first victory of the season.
No. 14 Barry University Buccaneers
2010 record: 11-4-3 (6-1-1 SSC, 1st in conference)
Starters lost: 3
Starters returning: 8
Goal differential last season: +23
What's good? A lot is expected of Barry this year, as well as it should be. The Buccaneers return eight starters from a team that won the SSC last year before going out in the NCAA Round of 16, losing to conference foe Rollins College, 3-1. They finished the season ranked 14th in the country and that's where they open this season in the preseason poll. The team also brings back 14 overall letterwinners to strengthen and deepen the experienced roster.
The Buccaneers are also predicted to win the conference in the preseason poll held by the league's coaches. Head coach Steve McCrath owns a 157-64-19 overall record in his 13 seasons at Barry and should have no problem adding another double digit win total this season. The team's leading scorer and assist man Mark Anderson returns to the lineup for his senior campaign. Three All-Conference players from last season return for the Bucs including their First-Team goalkeeper Johnny Rodrigues. There's no telling how far these players can take Barry, but there's a really good chance it's back to the NCAA Tournament.
What's bad? In two words, not much. The Bucs have their whole backfield (four starters) and goalkeeper returning to a team that won the conference last season. The only bad news for this year's team is that they must travel to Rollins and Tampa. With those two teams and Barry competing for this season's conference crown, Barry caught the bad draw having to play both on the road.
Prediction: The sky is the limit for these Buccaneers. How they handle the hype will determine the success. The results will come for this year's team, but September 4th and October 8th hold the key to the Buccaneers end result this season. Barry must travel to Rollins and Tampa and walk away with good results if they have plans of hoisting the trophy at the end of this season again. Overall, the Barry Buccaneers should be the favorites on paper in almost every game they play this season. Too bad paper never won a soccer game.
How the Saints match-up: This will be the second game for both teams this season. They will also both be playing on a days' rest. The Buccaneers open the season on Friday (when the Saints play @NSU) at home against West Florida, a squad that won the Gulf South Conference last season with a 14-5-2 mark.
The Saints will be challenged early and often by the host Bucs. If the Saints come out and play their best soccer there's no reason to think they can't leave the state of Florida with two wins. North Georgia must play mistake-free and the defense must be atop their game. This and a good finish or two should put the Saints right in the game come 90 minutes. This will definitely be a good early test for the Saints this season.
Be sure to follow all the Saints action this weekend on SaintsSports.com. Live stats along with post game recap and news will be provided after each match. Joey Daniels will be providing information and news of the entire trip and fans can follow him on twitter @Joey_SI_Dee and as always, check out the official twitter of North Georgia athletics @SaintsSports.