A member of the USF soccer team controls the ball during a game last season. | www.gofightingsaints.com
The University of St. Francis men’s soccer team has no place to go but up after a disappointing season last year in which the squad won only one game.
Still, head coach Daniel Cross, who took over the team last season, said he has reasons to be optimistic.
“This year, we have brought in some really good recruits,” Cross told the Will County Gazette. “In the last two seasons, they haven’t won a game in conference. I’m not trying to build them up too much. I want them to keep their feet on the ground, but I think we’re going to have a pretty good team.”
Cross said the team recently finished its preseason practices and is gearing up for the first game of the regular season on Tuesday. He said defense has been a big focus, considering the Saints gave up 36 goals in 14 games last year.
“We conceded a lot of goals from set pieces last year,” Cross said. “The ball would go out of play, and we would just mentally switch off, and teams would score on us. We have been working a lot on that, and they are looking good.”
Cross has brought in a few recruits to help in that regard, including freshman Christian Bitangelo from the Republic of Congo.
“Christian reads the games really well and will help us out on defense,” Cross said. “He gets in really good positions and can win the ball. He’s not just a good strong, physical defender. He is also smart and technical and is a real all-around player.”
Cross didn’t recruit Bitangelo as a defender, but after an injury to another defender, Bitangelo stepped in to fill the hole.
USF’s back line will be led by experienced senior defender Mohamed Rashid, who missed much of last year due to an injury.
“Rashid is our captain,” Cross said. “We really missed him last year, and he is going to help us a lot this year. He is a good, strong player and really leads the team by example.”
On the other side of the ball, Kelvin Ndlovu should help USF score some goals. A junior who transferred to USF from Truman College, Ndlovu's a speedy winger from South Africa, and Cross said he expects him to have a strong year on create problems for other teams.
USF opens the season against Taylor University and plays its first conference game on Sept. 19 against Calumet College of St. Joseph. Cross said he is really looking forward to Sept. 23 and a game against his alma mater.
“I played for St. Xavier University and graduated from there, so did my assistant coach,” Cross said. “In the past, those games have always been a little fiery. They haven’t always been competitive, but I think this year we have a good chance of giving them a tough game and hopefully coming out on the right side."
For more information or to view the team’s full schedule, visit www.gofightingsaints.com.