HARROGATE, Tenn. — This is an in-depth preview of the upcoming Lincoln Memorial University men’s soccer season, including quotes from head coach Helio D’Anna, position-by-position analysis and key stats to consider.
It was masterful start to the 2014 season, as the Railsplitters outscored their first four opponents 8-1, won all four matches and jumped to No. 20 in the NSCAA national poll. That would be the high point of the season, though, as a complete scoring drought limited Lincoln Memorial to a 3-6-3 mark over the final 12 matches.
The Railsplitters completed the regular season with a 4-4-3 South Atlantic Conference record, earning a share of seventh place in the league standings. A 1-0 loss to second-seeded Mars Hill ended LMU’s season in the SAC Championship quarterfinals. It was the program’s first loss in the quarterfinal round of the league tournament since 2010.
“The elements for a great season were there, such as defense, possession, overall athleticism and fitness,” D’Anna said about his 12th season as the head men’s soccer coach. “The problem was our margin for error was so small on goal scoring. There were a number of games that we dominated every aspect — outshot, outpossesed, created more opportunities to score — but we came up short. The margin for error was so small that we lost our opportunity to have a successful season.”
The 2015 roster
With five players who appeared in at least 14 matches last season returning, the forwards comprise arguably the deepest portion of the Railsplitters’ roster.
Senior Leonardo da Silva (Itajuba, Brazil) — a 2014 All-SAC first team and NSCAA All-Southeast Region recipient — leads that group, as he set the pace last season with six goals and 12 points in a mere 807 minutes. He ranked second on the team with 40 shots and 14 shots on goal.
Senior striker Pedro Villa (New Braunfels, Texas) was nearly as productive as da Silva last season in a comparable amount of time, as he amassed four goals on 27 shots in 767 minutes. Villa registered a pair of goals in the season-opening win over Alabama-Huntsville.
An unfathomable stretch of bad luck limited senior Yinka Lawal (Bromley, England) to one goal and one assist in his debut with Railsplitters last season, but those numbers should take a major leap if he replicates his shot output. Lawal led LMU and ranked ninth in the SAC last season with 44 shot attempts, but was held to a .023 shot percentage.
Junior George Burne (Carlisle, England) and senior William Siu (Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil) will also play a pivotal role in the Railsplitters’ attack. Burne notched two goals and an assist in 15 starts last season, while Siu spread 314 minutes over 15 appearances.
Returners Adrian Herrera (Austin, Texas) and Igor Oliveira (Sao Paulo, Brazil), along with newcomers Danilo da Silva (Campinas, Brazil), Victor Peres (Brasilia, Brazil) and Philip Wong (Hong Kong, China), will compete for playing time at the forward spot.
“I made it an offseason priority to bring in enough goal scoring,” D’Anna said. “We have a lot of new guys that can pitch in there. The returners now know that we need more goals, so I think between that group and the new guys we are in good shape.”
The Railsplitters return a healthy chunk of their midfield despite losing four-year stalwart Yuri Passos to graduation. Along with two newcomers, six players that appeared in at least 10 matches last season are locked in for the 2015 campaign.
Sophomore Nick Spielman (Melbourne, Florida) and senior Lucas Coro (Ribeirao Preto, Brazil) top that class of returning players.
Spielman spread 1,148 minutes over the course of 16 appearances and 10 starts during his debut season in the Blue and Gray. He logged eight shots and three shots on frame.
Coro also made 16 appearances with 10 starts in his first season with the Railsplitters, tallying the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win over Anderson in mid October.
Sophomores George Cant (Ockbrook, England) and Thalles Silva (Cotia, Brazil) are expected to make increased contributions with a year of collegiate seasoning under their belts.
Cant registered three shots and two shots on goal in 13 appearances, while Silva attempted 11 shots in 10 outings and 558 minutes.
Juniors Alexandre Leao (Ribeirao Preto, Brazil) and Bryson Lehn (Hendersonville, Tennessee) add to the Railsplitters’ deep core of returning players. Leao has scored two goals with an assist in 24 career matches, while Lehn has totaled 1,091 minutes in his two seasons in the Blue and Gray.
Florida Memorial University transfer Henrique Rezek (Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil) and Central High School graduate Safaa Abid (Knoxville, Tennessee) will immediately compete for minutes in the Railsplitters’ midfield.
“We are deep in the midfield,” said D’Anna. “Along with our returners, we have some heavy hitters coming in, and everybody will compete for starting roles.”
The Railsplitters’ defense will be led by senior All-South Atlantic Conference second team selection Nathaniel Johnson (London, England), who paced non-goalkeepers last season with 1,480 minutes played. Johnson tallied a pair of goals on 10 shots and three shots on goal.
Johnson enters his final season with the Railsplitters ranked 17th in program history with 3,881 career minutes played. The London, England native has made 47 career appearances.
The only other returning defensive player with substantial experience in the Railsplitters’ system is sturdy sophomore Hisham Abdelaziz (Metairie, Louisiana). Abdelaziz compiled 1,231 minutes over 16 outings last season, ranking fifth for the Railsplitters in minutes played.
Sophomores Diego Velazquez (Newman, Georgia), MJ Sheriff (Knoxville) and Raphael Baeta (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) played minor roles for the Railsplitters last season.
Velazquez led that trio with 592 minutes and seven starts, logging one assist over that span. Sheriff made 11 appearances, while Baeta played 41 minutes.
The remainder of the Railsplitters’ defensive rotation will be comprised of newcomers, as freshman Trey Fench (Locust Grove, Georgia.), Thiago Alves (Belo Horizonte, Brazil), Jason Newell (Richmond) and Matthew Taylor (Marietta, Georgia.) are set for their debut seasons in the Blue and Gray.
“That’s my question mark. If I need to say an area of the field that is still unknown, it’s defense,” D’Anna said. “There’s a lot of returners, but there’s a lot of new guys as well.”
The most recognizable hole in LMU’s alignment was left in the wake of two-time All-SAC goalkeeper Marcel Barwanietz’s departure. In his three seasons as a starter, Barwanietz compiled 28 wins, a 1.15 goals against average and 189 saves.
Young Harris transfer Pedro Ozi (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and freshmen Jesse Della Porta (Palm Coast, Florida) and Cole Luby (Hillsboro, Missouri) will be competing to fill that vacancy.
Ozi is the likely favorite to earn that spot, as he helped Young Harris achieve the No. 1 national ranking and compile a 16-2 record in 2013, finishing the season with a 1.00 goals against average, a .770 save percentage and eight shutouts.
“Pedro is a different kind of player [than Barwanietz],” D’Anna commented. “He’s tall and tall keepers sometimes struggle a little bit on the low ball, but he’s pretty agile. He’s got a great foot distribution and handles the ball in the air very well.”
The Railsplitters open the season against West Alabama on September 4 in Montevallo, Alabama.