Western Washington University senior center back Bailey Martin still remembers the "sour taste" a mid-season pair of road losses in North and South Dakota left the men's soccer club with last year. Ten months later, the sting continues to linger.
Martin and new Vikings head coach Greg Brisbon concisely pointed to the root of 2012's 8-8-2 finish and fifth place 6-6-2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference record. WWU didn't play well enough of the road, and they couldn't capitalize against inferior opponents.
"We need to win the games we should win," Brisbon said. "We gave up three-to-four games away last year, where we would have been in the hunt."
Those two losses Martin spoke of - a 2-1 defeat against the University of Mary in North Dakota and a 3-1 defeat to the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota - typified Western's season. The Vikings finished 3-6 on the road and suffered five one-goal losses. They outscored opponents 16-6 in the first half but gave up 17 second-half goals while scoring 12 themselves. Further, Western was 3-2-1 against the three worst teams in the GNAC.
Maintain first-half play, win on the road and beat less-skilled teams and WWU's season would have played out much differently.
But a strong offseason coupled with seven returning starters and 17 letter winners has Western thinking they can overcome those issues this year.
It starts at the top with Brisbon, who took over the men's program this offseason after serving as associate head coach the last eight years. He plans to continue promoting WWU's signature blue-collar style while amplifying the importance of team defense from the top third all the way to the back line.
"We've really worked on our defensive pressure," he said. "That's where everything starts. Defense will be No. 1. Everything starts with defense."
Martin, one of the Vikings' four seniors, gives Brisbon an experience defender to anchor the back third. Kurtis Pederson, former Sehome High standout Pat Cole, Dean Byron and Troy McCarty are expected to play quality minutes alongside Martin. Goalkeeping trio Leo Cohen, Keegan Rogers and Nico Terentjev provides Brisbon a slew of strong options in goal.
It's not raw ability that will carry Western's defense, Martin said, rather it will be sheer determination.
"I think we've always been a blue-collar team," at least in my four years," Martin said. "That has kind of been our thing, to just out work the other team. Maybe we're not the most skilled or the best team out there, but I think, especially this year, our key to success is to just out work the opponent, and I think Bris is going to really encourage that."
The season is particularly special for Martin.
Following limited playing time his freshman year, he felt he took a step back as a sophomore, but last season marked a breakout year for the central defender. He started nearly every game and saw action in all 18 matches, serving as a key piece within Western's defense.
"One of the things I'm proud of is I did play in every single game last year," he said. "That was kind of a big deal for me, especially coming off my sophomore season. I played minimal amounts. I worked really hard my sophomore summer between my junior year to be fit and be ready to help in anyway. It did play off, and now I'm feeling good. I'm a senior, and I'm feeling like one of the older guys on the team."
This season gives Martin a final chance to leave a lasting imprint on the soccer program.
Fellow senior Andrew Weishaar has already distinguished himself as one of the more prolific goal scorers to don a Western uniform, and he will undoubtedly be a big reason why, or why Vikings don't, put together the season they believe is possible. The goal? Brisbon thinks a GNAC title is attainable.
Weishaar, who scored seven goals last year, is Western's returning leading goal scorer and will be counted on heavily to produce up top. Brisbon knows his senior attacker has all the tools to score with regularity.
In fact, the new WWU head coach billed Weishaar "one of the best forwards I've seen since I've been here."
"Sky is the limit," Brisbon said of Weishaar. "He could be (GNAC) Player of the Year. He has that potential."
Weishaar headlines an attack, which also features sophomore Leonard Kusina, Caden Sowers, Tye Hastings and Austin Curtis. Freshman James Molyneux-Elliott also has impressed this preseason.
Sophomore Uche Ugwoaba and junior Gabriele Zaccagnini are slated to see action in Western's holding midfield positions, and the two are part of an extremely deep team Brisbon and Martin said, top to bottom, is ultra competitive.
"You can see our depth as a team," Martin said. "We will probably have a starting 11, and then have the next set of bench players that are able to come in and make a real difference, and I think that creates a lot of good healthy competition amongst everyone."
Western will get the chance to quickly put those haunting road woes to rest. It opens the regular season against Metro State at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, in Denver, Colo.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
2013 WWU MEN'S SOCCER SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 6 at Metro State 2:30 p.m.
Aug. 8 at Colorado Christian Noon
Aug. 12 Notre Dame De Namur 3 p.m.
Aug. 14 Hawaii-Pacific 7 p.m.
Aug. 19 at Northwest Nazarene* 4 p.m.
Aug. 21 at Montana State-Billings* 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 University of Mary* 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 28 South Dakota School of Mines* 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Saint Martin's* 3:15 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Seattle Pacific* 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Simon Fraser* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 at South Dakota School of Mines* 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at University of Mary* 9 a.m.
Oct. 24 Montana State-Billings* 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 Northwest Nazarene* 7 p.m.
Oct. 31 Seattle Pacific* 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 3 Saint Martin's 1 p.m.
Nov. 9 Simon Fraser* 7 p.m.
2013 WWU MEN'S SOCCER ROSTER
No. Player Pos. Year Hometown
15 Trevor Bartels D RS So. Seattle
16 Conner Biggs F Jr. Kent
23 Dean Byron D Sr. Renton
1 Leo Cohen GK Sr. Seattle
14 Pat Cole D Jr. Bellingham
17 Austin Curtis F So. Bonney Lake
19 Tye Hastings M RS Jr. Mill Week
11 Leonard Kusina F So. Fairbault, Minn.
8 Bailey Martin D Sr. Tacoma
12 Troy McCarty D Fr. Snohomish
4 James Molyneux-Elliot F Fr. Issaquah
18 Kurtis Pederson D So. Puyallup
22 Nate Popp M Fr. Redmond
5 Sawyer Preston D So. Sammamish
9 Chad Radulovich F Fr. San Ramon, Calif.
00 Keegen Rogers GK Jr. Portland, Ore.
2 Caden Sowers F Jr. Ferndale
10 Matt Temple M So. Beaverton, Ore.
0 Nico Terentjev GK Fr. Mercer Island
7 Uche Ugwoaba M So. Burien
21 Andrew Weishaar F Sr. Puyallup
25 Jeremy Wentzel D So. Edmonds
6 Gabriele Zaccagnini M Jr. Olympia
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.