Rice, Cats aim for 2008 success

Although the UK men’s soccer team lost 10 players from last season’s roster, familiar faces and new additions have kept the team optimistic for the 2008 season.

“They’re doing a great job,” head coach Ian Collins said. “The guys they’re with got a lot of experience last year. We have good leaders in Barry Rice, Jason Griffiths and Dan Williams, and guys like Masumi Turnbull and Bingy Lara. It’s easy for the (new) guys to find their way in.”

Rice, a returning junior defender and a captain for the team, has grabbed multiple preseason honors. The reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year was named preseason third team All-American and preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the Hermann Trophy Watch List, one of only 48 players in the nation to be given the honor.

“Barry has really matured into a very good player,” Collins said.

Both Rice and the senior midfielder Turnbull were named to the 2008 preseason All-C-USA Team. Turnbull also led the team with seven assists.

During the 2007 season, Rice led UK in goals with seven and points with 15. He led the entire conference in game-winning goals in 2007 with three.

Co-captains alongside Rice are Griffiths, a junior midfielder, and Williams, a junior goalkeeper. Griffiths battled injuries in 2007 that limited him to one goal in 11 games. Williams appeared in all 19 games for UK in 2007 and made 71 saves.

UK’s balance of solid defense and strong attack was already on display this season during its exhibitions. On Aug. 23 at the UK soccer complex, UK out-shot No. 15 West Virginia 16-2 overall.  UK went into the second half with a 6-0 shot advantage and held WVU from taking a shot until the 52nd minute.

Although no one scored, UK showed its scoring potential with six shots on goal compared to none by WVU.

“The biggest difference is attacking. Our players are really good at attacking the other players,” Collins said. “We’re a different team attacking-wise. It will be interesting to watch. The crowd will really enjoy it.”

Freshman Marco dos Santos showed his prowess in both exhibition games with a total of four shots. Against Dayton, the forward from Sao Paulo, Brazil, scored his first UK goal on his only shot, which came in the 64th minute. Against West Virginia, dos Santos had three shots, tied for second-best on the team.

Three other newcomers also showed their potential early. Freshman forward Taylor White led the team in shots with four against WVU, while junior forward Sam Vernalls matched dos

Santos with three shots, and freshman midfielder George Davis IV had two shots.

UK has one newcomer on the team that is already familiar with the city of Lexington. Junior defender Tim Muessig is a Paul Laurence Dunbar graduate and a transfer from Western Kentucky. He played in all 18 games for WKU in the 2007 season.

“The team is really starting to come together well,” Collins said. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”

The first home game of the regular season is scheduled for Friday against Central Arkansas in the University of Kentucky Invitational. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The men will conclude the Invitational Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. against Detroit.