The Southern Oregon University men’s soccer team finds itself in newfound territory.
And that’s not just because the Raiders are all of three weeks away from their new head coach’s official debut on the sideline, either.
SOU, now in its fourth year fielding a men’s soccer program, has a new goal as preseason practice began Thursday evening at Raider Stadium — make it two straight Cascade Collegiate Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
“We always talk about that it’s not trying to hold a conference title, it’s trying to win it for a second time,” SOU junior midfielder Paul Matyas said. “It’s just going in with a different mindset that we’re here to compete just like any other team but also try to hit that same target we did last year.”
The Davie Carmichael era officially gets underway on Friday, Aug. 24, against Menlo College (Calif.) in Ashland. The Raiders will play three scrimmages in a seven-day span the week before preparations for opening day fully kick into gear.
The main objective between preseason camp opening and Menlo’s visit to Raider Stadium three weeks from now is easy for Carmichael to identify.
“First and foremost, it’s building team chemistry since we have a few new guys here that I think are going to play significant minutes for us,” the Scotland-born Carmichael said. “How do we weave those guys in personality-wise and have them understand the style of play, the philosophy and we want to do that quickly. Those (exhibition) games are going to be vital in terms of chemistry being built.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a lot to replace, though.
Of the four players that led the team with five goals last season, three of them return in 2018.
Carmichael also has 10 players who started at least 10 games from last season’s squad that went 14-7-1 overall back, including junior goalkeeper Wyatt Zabinski, who had a breakout sophomore season and was named the CCC’s co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
Carmichael’s predecessor, Biniam Afenegus, quickly built the Raiders into not just a competitive product, but a team that has gone to record double-digit win totals in its first three years as a program.
From the first day that Carmichael — who was an assistant coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last season before moving north to Southern Oregon — has been extremely complimentary of the job that Afenegus did, establishing both a winning culture as well as cementing SOU as one of the CCC’s best defensive units.
Last season, the Raiders led the conference with 12 shutouts, while their 0.85 goals against average was second only to Rocky Mountain College (Mont.).
“The main thing is that we’re all disciplined and we stick together,” Zabinski said. “There were never moments in the games where we were getting on each other about things. We just worked as a family, as a team, and just stuck it out.”
From his very first day on the job, one of Carmichael’s biggest goals has been making the Raiders more of a dynamic team going forward, aiming to improve what was already one of the CCC’s top scoring teams a year ago.
“Having a really strong defense can be something to build a good offense from,” Carmichael said back in June, emphasizing that he wants to take the foundation that Afenegus built and take it up another level.
“He’s trying to make us better every time (we attack), working on our set pieces, working on every day going out there and practicing what will help us get goals,” said SOU junior midfielder Esteban Castaneda, one of the aforementioned group of players who scored a team-high five goals in 2017. “He wants us to find the open spaces to get it out wide to our wingers. He’s teaching us pretty much everything we need to know to make a good performance out there.”
Matyas added: “In previous years, we always start with building our defense, but (Carmichael’s) seen that offense is one of the points where we could use a lot of improvement. He’s focusing on that rather than starting with the focus on defense.”
The Raiders’ work started Thursday with an eye on their season opener.
But the end game is to not just make it back-to-back conference titles, but get to the NAIA national tournament as well.
And they just want you to know that SOU’s wants to win another title, not defend it.
“I think if we look at it as defending a title, we’ve been negative in a defensive shell. You want to be aggressive and we want to play to win a new one,” Carmichael said. “I think the tone behind that is very different, so I’m trying to instill in these guys that now that you’ve won it once, the target is on your back and people are going to come hunting you. We don’t want to become a reserve team that are cautious in what we do.
“Our approach has to be one of aggression and we want to go out and be an expansive attacking team. Whether we’re at home or away from home, we want to, yes, protect what we have, but also build atop and evolve from what we had last year.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.