Two-time reigning A-10 coach of the year Coach Mike McGinty was very clear in his expectations for the SLU men’s soccer team entering their 2014 campaign- “The goal is to be able to compete and beat everyone we face.” Coming off of a 14-5-2 season that saw the Billikens capture the A-10 regular season crown, the expectations are reasonable. Bold, undoubtedly, yet reasonable.
Coach McGinty calls this a group that can “bring SLU back into the national spotlight” for soccer. After seeing two alums (Brad Davis and Vedad Ibiševic) represent their national teams in the past World Cup, the “national spotlight” isn’t what this team lacks, but rather national achievement. 41 years since SLU sat atop the throne of the NCAA by winning the championship, and 40 years since they appeared in a championship game, speaks to a tendency of great regular seasons, but mediocre postseasons that leave something to be desired.
For instance, take the SLU 2013 soccer team. An intense regular season that saw them lose only 4 games, and knock off then #3 Creighton, ended in disappointment after being upset by George Mason in the A-10 championship. Thus, no NCAA tournament appearance. How do the Billikens, then, break the trend? Through recent years that saw a slew of pro-caliber players circle through SLU (Mcbride, Davis, Ibiševic, Ream, etc.), championship hardware still wasn’t hoisted. How can this team be any better than those? Robert Kristo, folks, is the saving grace.
Two-time NSCAA All-American. Two-time A-10 all-conference selection. Hermann Trophy semifinalist in 2012, and on the watch list in 2014. The national accolades alone define Kristo as one of the elite players in college soccer. However, the true story of how Kristo can propel SLU to the peak lie in how his stats stack up against SLU legends. With 66 career points, Kristo is 6 away from top 20 all-time in Billiken history. More impressive, if Kristo leads SLU in points in 2014, he will be only the second player in school history to lead the team in points for 4 straight years. The other? SLU legend and former US national team captain Brian McBride.
Kristo is a lock to produce for the Billikens. Goalkeeping, however, remains a question mark after the graduation of Nick Shackelford. 39 career wins (3rd all-time SLU) and a career GAA of .92 (8th all-time SLU) makes Shackelford a top 10 goalie in SLU history. Tough to replace that, especially with a 2014 group of goalkeepers that boast 3 career appearances among the 4 of them. All 3 belong to David Andre, the expected starter for this season. At only 5’10” though, Andre is undersized for his spot. Don’t be surprised if the French native is replaced by the taller frame of exciting German freshman Sascha Otte.
An exhibition against 2013 NCAA champions Notre Dame will be Coach McGinty’s best opportunity to gauge where his team stands, especially at the goalkeeping position. With 4 underclassmen keepers, a chance like this is the staff’s best opportunity to gauge who’s a real competitor for the starting spot, and who may need another season or two of development. David Andre showed off his poise last season against nationally ranked Louisville, recording 6 saves in an eventual overtime loss. The other expected competitor for the position, Sascha Otte, “will come in and push our keepers right away” and “has the ability to make an immediate contribution” according to Coach McGinty. Although “not crucial for our season”, this dress rehearsal is crucial to Otte’s chances of rising to starting keeper.
“Last year’s team was very strong… This year we expect to be even stronger. If we focus on ourselves and our improvement each week we should have a special season,” declares Coach McGinty. He goes on to say that “staying focused and humble throughout the season will be important for us to achieve what we are capable of.” Just how much is this team capable? If Robbie Kristo can produce as much as expected and a consistent starting goalkeeper can be found, the Billikens have the role players and coaching to win the Atlantic-10 and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.