Niagara Gazette — Want to anger a group of ambitious young champions?
Tell them they won't do it again.
The Niagara men's soccer team went went 13-2-4 last year, winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament and advancing to its first ever NCAA Tournament. Yet when the MAAC released its preseason coaches poll, Niagara wasn't atop the list.
Nor second. Nor third. The Purple Eagles were in fourth place, a slight they are hoping to avenge beginning with Friday's home opener against Vermont (7 p.m., Niagara Field).
"This year we're posted as underdogs again, so we want to prove that last year wasn't a fluke and not only win the MAAC but advance in the tournament and make an impression on the national stage," said defender and captain Nick Garcia.
There were offseason changes at Monteagle Ridge, though not enough to truly challenge a title team. All-conference goalkeeper Brett Petricek and midfielder Rene de Zorzi have moved from the playing field to the coaching staff, where they'll be assisting a first-year head coach. Eric Barnes is taking over for his old boss, Chase Brooks, who flew the Niagara nest for the same job at Duquesne.
But Niagara also brings back all-conference forward Callum Wilmott and the 2013 Preseason Player of the Year in Roberto Fernandez-Andersson. The big Swede, born in Spain, joins Garcia in the back.
"He reads the game well back from the back but he's also really composed on the ball," Barnes said of Fernandez-Andersson, "So we can put him under pressure as our last defender and he's still able to play out of it every time."
Garcia, making the move from right back to center back, is excited to pair up with Fernandez-Andersson in 2013.
"It's good to have a player you know is going to hold onto the ball and every time I make a mistake I know he's going to be there to clean it up for me," Garcia said.