I’m not a prognosticator or Nostradamus, but it doesn’t take a prophet to see a special season could be in store for the Bradley men’s soccer team.
After winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and receiving a NCAA birth last season, the expectations are high for a repeat performance this fall.
The Braves return 21 lettermen and nine of the 10 players who scored a goal from a season ago, including preseason all-conference selection Bryan Gaul.
Gaul isn’t just one of the best players in the MVC, he’s one of the best players in the country. He was one of 42 players named to the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy watch list, which is awarded to the top player in intercollegiate soccer each year.
In Bradley’s two games this season, Gaul has three goals and assisted another.
In a 4-1 mauling of no. 21 ranked Butler, the senior forward took a ball off the chest then rifled a 42-yard bomb that got by the goaltender and rippled the back of the net.
Coach Jim DeRose called it one of the best goals in Bradley soccer history.
A 1-0 shutout over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne following the Butler contest has the Braves a perfect 2-0 on the season.
This team is talented, experienced, defensive-minded and has great coaching. There are playmakers in Gaul and Christian Meza. There are great defenders in Tommy Fritze and Bobby Smith. Even second year goaltender Brian Billings returns.
The Braves have all the ingredients for a great season and there isn’t another coach I would want to lead this team.
Jim DeRose is entering his 16th season on the hilltop and it is no accident that he is the longest tenured coach in Bradley’s athletic department.
DeRose is a dynamite soccer coach but more importantly he is engaging, friendly and a great representative of the university. He knows how to get the most out of teams and always has them playing their best at the right time.
A year ago the Braves were one of the younger teams in the conference and it showed. They struggled during the regular season to put all the pieces together, but by the end of the season DeRose had the Braves poised to win a MVC championship.
Despite the early success, Bradley is far from a finished product this year. They were out shot 21-8 against Butler and needed a penalty kick to beat IPFW. But the Braves are already showing signs they could be great.
Not many teams can be out shot that badly by the no. 21 ranked team in the nation and win 4-1. Then after allowing that many shots to Butler, Bradley came out and harassed IPFW defensively, holding them to just two shots on goal.
It shows the Braves can learn from their mistakes and ultimately have a resolve to win no matter the scenario. The best teams don’t always win pretty but they find a way to get the victory.
Bradley is just two games into the season, but students need to realize this team has all the potential to be special. Fans need to pack Shea Stadium and cheer the Braves on starting with the second home game of the season tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Who knows, we could be watching one of the best teams in not only the MVC but the entire country.