The youth movement of the past two years is now coming into a leadership stage. The Puget Sound men's soccer team returns nine starters from a year ago and is eyeing a run at a Northwest Conference championship.
Last season, the Loggers finished third in the NWC and are picked to finish in the same spot this year. However, the Loggers did receive one first-place vote from the NWC coaches and figure to be right in the thick of a title race in late October.
Senior goalkeeper Chris McDonald is back to lead the Loggers as a team captain. McDonald was selected as the All-NWC Second Team goalie for the second year in a row in 2011 after allowing just one goal per game and making 52 saves. His 1.0 GAA ranked second in the NWC while his .754 save percentage ranked third. McDonald's 20 career shutouts already rank fourth all-time and are just 10 shutouts shy of the all-time record.
Up front, the Loggers will be full of experience with all starters returning at the forward and midfield positions. The 2012 returners accounted for 30 of the 34 goals scored for the Loggers last year. Juniors Andrew White and Vince McCluskey finished the season as the Loggers leading goal-scorers, accounting for 11 goals combined.
White's six goals earned him Second Team All-NWC honors while McCluskey's five goals earned him Honorable Mention. White also had five assists for 17 total points, which ranked sixth in the conference.
Second Team All-NWC selection Carson Swope will return in the midfield after scoring one goal a year ago. Fellow junior Colin McIntosh will join him in the midfield after three goals and a pair of assists earned him Honorable Mention in 2011. Sophomore Connor LaFerriere also earned Honorable Mention in 2011 and will look to increase his contributions as a veteran in 2012.
In the back row, Sam Naatz and David Leslie return for their junior seasons. They will have new partners in the back as two starters graduated last season. However, plenty of veteran players are ready to step into those starting roles. Eneko Bereziartua and Geoffrey Cleveland are two juniors looking to earn some more playing time this year after becoming regular contributors to the Logger defense last year.
Juniors Landon Gauthier and Ryan Rash will also return in 2012 and look to continue their major contributions up front for the Loggers. Both have proved to be goal-scoring threats over the past couple of seasons with both primarily coming off the bench to impact the game. Sophomore Sean Ryan and junior Luke Sandbolm will also compete for some playing time this season in the midfield.
The Loggers open up the season on the road with three matches in Minnesota on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus. Their first match will be one of two neutral site matches for the weekend on Friday against St. Thomas at noon (PT). The Loggers home-opener comes a week later when they host Trinity Lutheran at 11:30 a.m. on Sep. 8.