Men's Soccer With Much to Build On
Future Remains Bright as Ever
Written By: Jake Ullrich
Assistant Sports Editor
It was Oct. 22 and the Monarchs had just beaten Hofstra 4-1 at the ODU soccer complex. Yannick Smith had scored one of his 16 goals and Tim Hopkinson had three assists. It was the Monarchs seventh straight win and they were in excellent position to win the CAA title and compete for a bye in the NCAA round.
Fast forward one month and the Monarchs won one of their last seven games. They lost 2-1 in the CAA championship and 3-0 to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA tournament. A team that scored 23 goals in their seven game winning streak scored one in their last three games. That one goal was a penalty kick.
“I think you can make a case, especially in front of goal, of us peaking a little bit too early,” coach Alan Dawson said. “I think it was a combination of a few different things and that, we eventually hit the wall a little bit. We need more guys stepping up off the bench; we were a little disappointed with our depth.”
“And we lacked some discipline down the stretch. We got some cards that hurt us and had some players out. We obviously had some injuries. It wasn’t one thing, it was a number of things.”
The schedule did no favors to the Monarchs late in the season either. The team traveled to JMU and Northeastern late in the regular season, then back to Harrisonburg to the CAA championship. After a home NCAA game against Liberty, the team then caught a flight at four in the morning to make it to a game in Indiana.
The team started the season in impeccable form, winning their first fives games and the Stihl Soccer Championship. The defense was keeping clean sheets and the offense had little problem finding the back of the net. As the season reached its halfway point, and the Monarchs began their impressive win streak, the offense continued to score but the defense was beginning to leak goals.
It seemed whenever the offense would score three, the defense would make it a bit exciting by letting in two. The team had trouble finding their best from offensively and defensively.
“At the very start of the year we were both doing good, we were scoring goals and keeping clean sheets,” captain Tommy Webb said. “And then defense kind of fell apart at the middle of the season. We were lucky the offense was scoring so much. And then it turned around.”
“I’ve said it since day one that our defense is one of the best in the country,” Yannick Smith said. “Maybe the stats don’t show it, but they were playing well in the beginning of the season. “
“And it’s not just the back four and Victor. Its all of us, all eleven of us defending. There were goals that us forwards could have helped but pressure on.”
Many of the goals were coming from the fine form of Smith. The junior forward had struggled most of his sophomore season, failing to find the back of the net. Smith didn’t have that problem his junior year, finishing the season with 16 goals.
“I felt great in the middle of the season, things were just dropping to me,” Smith said. “I had a couple good finishes, a couple lucky finishes but I’ll take them anyway.
“Towards the end of the season it just got tough, keepers were making great saves, we were hitting the post. It seemed like we were getting unlucky at the end of the season.”
The team had set multiple goals coming into the season, one of which was to win the CAA tournament. The Monarchs were in excellent position to clinch that trophy, leading in the final against Delaware. But an own-goal from Drew Smith would ultimately be the deciding goal in a 2-1 loss.
“That was tough. The guys thought they had an ideal opportunity. We scored first, but it wasn’t our day,” coach Dawson said. “But that’s our sport, sometimes it doesn’t go your way. It wasn’t through lack of effort. It wasn’t through guys not showing up. But it was a devastating blow for the team.”
But the team didn’t have much time to recover. Only four days later, they faced Liberty in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After a frustrating 0-0 draw, the game came down to penalty kicks. Goalkeeper Victor Francoz scored the Monarchs’ first penalty and then saved Liberty’s last, clinching the victory for the Monarchs.
Francoz, a transfer junior, earned the starting goalkeeper position in his first year at Old Dominion. He didn’t disappoint. Francoz began making a habit of making fantastic saves, single-handedly keeping the Monarchs in many a game.
“I think [Francoz] is one of the unsung heroes of our team,” Webb said. “Some games he completely keeps us in it. We have to look to him on a lot of occasions. Probably the best shot stopper I’ve ever seen in the game and I’ve seen some good goalkeepers.”
However, Francoz wasn’t the only player to impress both the team and coach Dawson. Tim Hopkinson showed fine form his freshman season, earning a starting spot coming into his second year. He finished first on the team in points and dominated many a game.
Hopkinson began to pick up the ball a lot deeper and be more involved in the build up play. With his excellent passing, he is a perfect supporting striker to Smith. However he’s also an exceptional finisher.
“I thought Tim was one of the best players in the conference,” Smith said. “I think he got a bit robbed only making second team all conference. With the way he plays he’s one of the best two or three players in the country.”
While Hopkinson played a crucial role in the offensive third of the field, junior Jason Gaylord was a star in the defensive. Starting out at left back, Gaylord made the move to center midfield to compliment Jordan LeBlanc. LeBlanc has been described as the “composer” of the team by his coach, pulling the strings and making the passes. Gaylord served as his bodyguard, constantly breaking up the opponent’s attack and getting stuck in on tackles.
“Jason Gaylord had a good year. I moved him around a little bit, we asked him to do a lot of things he wasn’t totally comfort with,” coach Dawson said. “I thought he bounced back a bit from a spell that wasn’t quite comfortable and became one of our most comfortable players. Somewhat of an unsung hero.”
The team is riddled with underclassmen; they will lose only one of their 11 starters from their final game last season. Freshman Skylar Hagan and Ivan Militar both played impressive minutes and look to only improve with a year under their belt.
But it’s a specific loss that should have the Monarchs worrying most about next season. A four-year starter, Webb was instrumental to the team’s success on the field, but was the unquestioned leader off. He demanded the best from his fellow players and insisted they give full effort every play.
“Tommy brings so much to the table. Personality, hard work, he’s a good player but we can replace him as a player. Its all the other stuff,” coach Dawson said. “He’s a Monarch, 100 percent. Would run through a brick wall. We need more leaders to emerge; we need someone to step up. Hopefully Tommy will have left his mark and someone will replace that.”
Parts of the season, the Monarchs showed the skill they possess. They’re a team riddled with talented players and they want to show that. They want to keep the ball on the ground to play, and play well. Unfortunately, they were not able to continue that form all season. But with coach Dawson demanding nothing but the best from his players and the team wanting to win again, the future is nothing but bright for this Monarch team.