Dawson brings in dynamic, versatile core to make immediate impact on positions of need
Alan Dawson touted several of his seven recruits as multi-position players who give him much needed versatility and packaging. The Old Dominion men’s soccer head coach brought in Kelvin Centeno, Connor Hylton, Nick Hutchinson, Jessie Mirarlio, Matthew Sanchez, Cole Stringer and Christian Wirth for the upcoming season.
“We’ve been training hard, been in the weight room. Been working on our fitness, so we feel good about the group,” Dawson said. “We’ve got a good nucleus even though we lost a lot of guys last year, as many of five starters. We feel like we’ve got a good enough nucleus that if we add some pieces, we’ll be very competitive.”
The mentality within the team started when they got back from holiday break, and they started preparing for next season. And this spring slate of games is a preseason for next fall, an opportunity for coach Dawson and staff to look at the young guys through a series of workouts to build their strength and confidence.
“We do a couple of tests. The Cooper Test is a two-mile run [and] we time that so we know what they’ve got in that test the previous year. So they’re trying to beat that time. Technically, we want the guys to be around 12 minutes,” Dawson said. “We also have a Manchester United Test which is an endurance test and the Beat Test, which is more of short sprints.”
The recruits taking these tests are the earlier class to be brought in since Dawson was named head man 16 years ago. He gave insight on how their timely arrival allowed them to get more acclimated in the offense.
“We think that with such a large recruiting class, it’s important for them to come back and get to know the team [to] kind of break the ice a little bit before we kick it all off,” Dawson said.
Dawson noted that there is one more yet-to-be-named player to add to the group that has made a verbal commitment
“I think that will really be the icing on the cake. They’ll be a very talented group and we hope that they can mold as quickly as possible.”
One of those players, Sanchez, goalkeeper, is competing for the starting spot. He’s got the “poise, authority and expertise” that Dawson sees to battle for that role. The unknown player, a defender that coach referenced will also be an impact player who can help the team immediately.
Stringer’s size, athleticism, and overall great mind for the game translates well to them team, according to Dawson.
“He’s a very steady player, he’s physically ready to compete in college. And I think that’s important to really emphasize.” Dawson said.
Maralio stands six-foot-two and is by coach’s estimation one of the best forwards in the country. He alluded to how great he can be if he puts a little more weight on him.
“He has the skill, the size, the speed to be an immediate impact player. Will he be mentally strong enough? Will he be physically strong enough, remains to be seen. But certainly, he’s got a lot of tools,” Dawson said.
Wirth’s multi-position versatility also gives the team more flexibility. Dawson noted of his steadiness and consistency, playing at different spots.
Centeno, the lone Virginian in the group, has Dawson believing that he can bring a dynamic element to the left side of the field, an area the team’s been lacking and is in need of right away. Dawson thinks he’s dynamic with toughness and grit that he likes.
Rounding out this class is Hylton from the Baltimore Bays Under-18 team (along with Sanchez). He’s been out of the college game for a year but coach is confident in him competing at this level.
“He’s very competitive. Maybe staying out of the game for a year is [going to] help him to make a smoother transition as a freshman. But he’s got a good mentality, very hard working, and [I’m] looking forward to seeing him.”
Many of these recruits come to ODU out of high school amongst the elite and upper echelon of their class. But here they’re surrounded with players who match their skill level or are even better. The biggest thing coach stresses is that you have to be fitter than you ever have been before. And the speed of play is a whole different level. Mentally, they have to be in tune.
“The ball’s moving a lot quicker, you have to think a lot quicker. You can’t take a day off, you [got to] be at it every day improving yourself.”
This year’s team is a lot bigger than last year, allowing for an opportunity for them to score a lot more goals on set pieces. Defensively, three of four starters are back. And the Monarchs (11-3-3 last season) will compete in the Conference-USA, amongst the top five leagues in the country.
“When we look at the schedule, we say ‘wow, where are we [going to] win a game?’,” Dawson laughed. It really is a challenging schedule.
Dawson remains adamant that his team has a tough task at hand but could manage with some much needed early momentum.
“If we can get some key wins and not take too many losses then we’ll be ready. Then it’s one game at a time and we’ll see what happens.”
By. Brian Jerry