Mountaineers chalk impressive recruiting class
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 06:02
The West Virginia men’s soccer team still has about six months until the 2013 season kicks off, but head coach Marlon LeBlanc has already added nine new players for the Mountaineers’ second season in the Mid-American Conference, coming up this fall.
The recruiting class consists of eight players out of high school and one transfer from the University of Pittsburgh. It’s a highly rated group from top to bottom, and one coach LeBlanc is very excited about, to say the least.
"I’m very, very pleased with the group that we’ve brought in," LeBlanc said. "I think the one thing we’ve done here pretty well is recruit. We identified some places that we needed to get better, we had some guys that we obviously needed to replace, and we feel like we’ve really been able to do that.
"My assistants have done a fantastic job, and I think that these guys are really going to be the types of players that can not only maintain where we’ve been going being as a top 25 program, but the hopes are they’re going to help put us over the top."
One of the most glaring holes heading into 2013 for the Mountaineers right off the bat was the fact that both goalkeepers who saw action for LeBlanc last season, Pat Eavenson and Yale Tiley, were seniors who graduated last fall.
Fortunately for West Virginia, though, one of LeBlanc’s nine signees is Brent Arnold of Landisville, Pa. Arnold is currently ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the country at his position by TopDrawerSoccer.com and is expected to compete with three others for the starting spot in goal right away.
In addition to Arnold the other new incoming goalkeeper is Lee Johnston, who transferred to WVU from its former archrival Pittsburgh. Johnston is a lanky, 6-foot-4 junior who is also expected to compete for the starting goalkeeping job. The transfer started 26 of his 28 career matches at Pitt, recording 133 saves during those two seasons.
"When we played against him (Johnston) two years ago, we absolutely battered them. And if it wasn’t for Lee, the score could have been five or six-nil. I thought he was phenomenal on the day."
Goalkeeper isn’t the only glaring position to fill at first glance. West Virginia also graduated its best defender – and overall player for that matter – Eric Schoenle, after last season.
Schoenle consistently acted as a captain of the defense from the center back position, and although no one will expect any of the new defensive recruits to entirely fill those shoes right away, LeBlanc will surely need a few players he can depend on to give him solid minutes on the back line.
The two standout defensive recruits he hopes to contribute with that are Alex Ochoa of Pasadena, Texas, and Nick Anello of Freehold, N.J.
Ochoa, a four-star recruit according to TopDrawerSoccer.com, has started in 15 games for the Houston Dynamo Academy team this year and provides the ability to turn any defensive play into a streaking attack the other way, at any time, according to Leblanc.
Anello, meanwhile, is another athletic defender who is expected to be able to play a number of different defensive back or midfield positions for the Mountaineers this fall.
Five more midfielders round out LeBlanc’s incoming class for 2013: Christian Diaz, Kyle Richards, Thomas Farrell, Jack Driscoll and Mike Desiderio.
All are certainly considered talented, but Diaz and Richards are the two who initially stand out from the pack.
Diaz is a current teammate of fellow incoming freshman Alex Ochoa for the aforementioned Dynamo Academy and is yet another four-star recruit, according TopDrawerSoccer.com. And according to WVU Sports Information, Ochoa will become the first Dynamo Academy player to ever play in 100 career matches later this season.
Richards is a tough, speedy Loganville, Ga., native who coach LeBlanc has likened to former WVU star Ray Gaddis, who started 17 games in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia Union last season.
Now, oddly enough in collegiate soccer, all nine of the new Mountaineers won’t be able to join the rest of the team for training until only about a single week before WVU’s first exhibition match, which is in stark contrast to other collegiate sports like football or baseball where offseason camps or practices sometimes take place months in advance.
On the flipside, though, LeBlanc says that all of his recruits are talented and will be playing soccer at such a high level throughout the summer with their various club and league teams, that when the first day of camp on Aug. 11 finally does roll around, honing basic skills or working on conditioning won’t have to be a first priority.
That still only leaves the team with seven calendar days to completely implement LeBlanc’s game plans and philosophies, but again, the eight-year head coach has the utmost confidence in his incoming recruiting class to pick things up very quickly.
"These are players that play at a high level and are going to be able to step in and mix in with our group pretty quickly," LeBlanc said. "The opportunity to bring our guys in early doesn’t exist for us, but these are very, very good players who are going to have a very short period of time where they’re overwhelmed. It’s a very good and well-rounded group."