Thursday night, the Florida Southern men's soccer team opens the 2018 season with Trinity Baptist College serving as the opposition in the Moccasins' first game at their new home, Moccasin Field. After playing in Auburndale last year while construction was completed on the Barnett Athletic Complex, the Moccasins will be back on campus for the first time since October 29, 2016, when they dropped a 3-2 decision to Barry.
For Jason Carlson, it will mark the first time he has truly coached the Moccasins at home after he was hired in the spring of 2017 as the sixth head coach in the program's 62-year history. Carlson guided the Moccasins to a 7-7 overall record in a season that not only featured "home" games in another city half an hour away, but one that was also disrupted by Hurricane Irma in early September. The first of those issues is something the Mocs won't have to endure again, and while they have no control over the second, knowing they can step right out their back door and onto their own field automatically makes things a lot easier.
The presence of 15 returning lettermen and seven regular starters, many of them instrumental in one of the best defensive seasons the Mocs have ever had, also brings a certain comfort level. The Moccasins had a goals against average of 1.14, the fourth lowest in team history and allowed more than one goal only twice in 14 games. Fifth-year senior Daniel Moore, junior Foster Appiah, and sophomore Jake Starling all started at least 13 games on the back line last year, and sophomore goalkeeper Benny Yusufoglu returns as well. Sophomore Henry Phillips (nine games as a reserve in 2017) and senior Nick Atwood (11 starts over the last two seasons) are two more veteran defenders who offer Carlson plenty of experience in his second year on the sideline.
"When you look at the Division II teams that go deep in the postseason, they don't concede a lot of goals," said Carlson. "So to have a good year, the defense is going to have to carry us at times. But you have to defend well as a team, and that starts up front with the forwards and works all the way back."
Florida Southern may have a core of strong defenders, but the Moccasins also return their leading scorer in junior Christoph Gums. He totaled 16 points last year, his first at Florida Southern, and tied for the Sunshine State Conference lead with eight assists. He played a role in 12 of Florida Southern's 22 goals, the highest percentage in the league. Only three other players on the roster have scored goals for the Moccasins though, which means another scoring threat must emerge. One such person could be junior Jacob Ling-Vannerus, who had four goals and 11 points as a freshman but was limited to five games last year.
Senior Georg Michajlov (nine starts in 2017), junior Tobias Rodriguez Brindicci (eight starts in 2017) and senior Pablo Gallo Arias (32 career games) provide a strong veteran presence as midfielders too. Their defensive work often gets overlooked but is an important component in the total team defense to which Carlson was referring.
This year's roster is balanced with 15 newcomers, but they're not a typical group of inexperienced freshmen. Nine of them are transfers, including juniors Claus Lehland and Anton Lindbom, who were starters for other Division II programs. Lehland was a two-year starter with four goals and four assists at Newberry (S.C.), and Lindbom helped Cal State-Los Angeles win the California Collegiate Athletic Association in 2017. Four junior college transfers also join the Mocs after earning all-conference and/or all-region honors at their respective schools.
"We've got a lot more depth this year, and there has been a lot of competition in training," said Carlson. "But I expect the newcomers to be a big part of our success this season."
The Mocs' season this year features 16 regular-season games, nine of them at Moccasin Field. That's the most home games for Florida Southern in 10 years, and the list includes first-time opponents Trinity Baptist (Fla.), Newberry (S.C.), and Mary (N.D.). They'll have to navigate through a conference schedule that includes national runner-up Lynn, SSC regular-season champion Tampa, and SSC Tournament champion Palm Beach Atlantic all on the road.