Western Michigan men’s soccer enter the 2019 season coming off back to back seasons competing in the Mid-American Conference finals and have been ranked in the top 25 for the past three seasons.
The Broncos have been very competitive in the past few seasons under head coach Chad Wiseman in one of the toughest soccer conferences in the nation. The MAC finished last season as the third hardest conference in the country based off of RPI only behind the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pacific Athletic Conference.
“We compete in one of the best college soccer conferences in the nation and we want to win,” Wiseman said. “We fancy ourselves as a top 25 soccer program. We expect to be [in the top 25] but it’s fair to say we are not there at the start of the season but we certainly want to be there at the end of the season.”
Conference play will not be an easy task as the Broncos have a very tough 2019 schedule. The preseason poll has two MAC teams ranked in the top 25 with Akron at No. 3 and West Virginia at No. 23. In addition to conference play, WMU faces four non-conference opponents that are ranked in the top 25 including No. 24 Michigan, No. 7 Michigan State, No. 12 Virginia and No. 9 Norte Dame. Wright State also received votes as they will play the Broncos in the season opener.
“Our schedule is extremely difficult this year. When you look at the preseason top 25 we play seven of those teams in our 20 games,” Wiseman said. “We certainly will have an opportunity to prove that we are a top 25 team with the schedule we play.”
The 2019 Broncos are very athletic and physical with a lot of their players standing 6 feet 2 inches or taller. The team is led by senior captain Giuseppe Vitale who will play a vital position in the center midfield. Vitale and the other five seniors will help lead the program that consists of 18 underclassmen including eight freshmen.
“We have a really good captain in Giuseppe Vitale and the six seniors will bring a lot of leadership to the team,” said Wiseman. “All of those guys have been part of a championship team and they know what it takes.”
The eight talented freshmen are poised to make WMU a top soccer program in the country. The Broncos bring in yet another MHSAA Mr. Soccer winner in Brennan Creek who won the award in 2018. The program has now brought in the past four winners of the Michigan Mr. Soccer award.
“The young guys bring in some new energy and certainly they will bring some mistakes with that new energy,” Wiseman said. “However, they are very eager to maintain and left our program to another level. It will be a good balance between leadership and the young guys competing and earning a spot on the field right away.”
The Broncos have a lot of key players returning from last season. Paul Liagre and Brendan Skinner are two of the key defenders that will need to play well in the back line. Also, the competition at goalkeeper is very intense as Lukas Von Lienen and Isaac Walker both have a great chance to earn the starting position.
“Liagre is a senior now and I think he could be the best right back in the entire MAC. Skinner at the center back position has been here a year now since transferring from Marquette, those two guys will certainly be anchors for us in the back line,” said Wiseman. “Walker has put some muscle on and is a little more confident coming off his line and I think he really could compete for that starting goalkeeper position.”
In the midfield, two players standout for the Broncos in Vitale and Anthony Bowie. Bowie scored two goals and assisted on three last season and his senior counterpart, Vitale, will also be a key part of creating scoring chances. Sophomore Eric Conerty was a top 25 recruit in the 2018 class and he will also be a threat to create and score goals from the midfield. Wiseman also stated that Caden Jackman, Mike Melaragni and Pepe Martinez-Bertrand are some of the players on the roster that could have a breakout season for the Broncos.
“We will be very explosive and make things happen in both the defensive and offensive thirds,” Wiseman said. “We will also be well rounded with some experience players and inexperience players.”
Some of the new faces on the team that could make an immediate impact are graduate transfer Sam Biek and redshirt freshmen Jaylen Shannon. Wiseman sees a lot of upside in these two players.
“Sam Biek was a two time All-American at the NAIA level and he’s a no-nonsense type of center back and we can move him in a few different positions,” said Wiseman. “Jaylen Shannon is a pretty impressive physical specimen and some of the things that he does you just can’t teach.”
The Broncos do not have time to start the season slow as their first three games are against tough opponents in Wright State, Norte Dame and Butler. With 18 underclassmen on the team, the Broncos will rely heavily on their six seniors to help guide the underclassmen through a tough start of the season. Wiseman also mentioned that staying healthy and gaining confidence will be key to their success this season.
“We have to figure out how to peek at the right time of the season. We want to be prepared in August but not peek in August,” Wiseman said. “We have to stay healthy and build the confidence of this young group as the season goes on. Results helps the confidence and we have to win some of these games early in the season.”
WMU men’s soccer will play a brown and gold exhibition on Aug. 15 before starting their 2019 campaign at home on Aug. 18 against Wright State.
“We are going to compete for the MAC championship,” Wiseman said. “We have the makings here of a really special group and we can see if we can pull the right strings.”