Photo by Jasen Delgado
Francisco Rivero/ Contributing Writer
Head Coach Kenny Arena has made it clear that the goal for his team is to compete for a national championship.
Along with his European playing style, Arena also brings in new playmakers like midfielder, Daniel Gonzalez, while still having senior leadership from players like defender Anthony Hobbs.
“I’m here to improve one of the best teams in the country. History has shown that FIU can compete at the highest level,” Arena said.
It will be an uphill battle for the Panthers, as they finished near the bottom of the standings in several categories in Conference USA. FIU was last in goals, 7, and assists, 6, in a 5-8-4 season.
FIU strives to reach these goals with the addition of some talented players like Gonzalez, who was named All-Miami Dade and team MVP in his junior and senior seasons at Miami Killian Senior High School.
“He’s already developed great leadership qualities,” Arena said. “I can see him making an impact right away.”
Some of the other talents that have come to FIU are defender Kevin Barber, from Lipscomb University in Nashville, defender Kwesi Alleyne from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and midfielder Icaro Marcos Cesar De Oliveria, from Tyler College in Tyler, Texas.
However, according to Arena, FIU does not plan to rely only on its incoming talent. The Panthers are also looking at their veteran leaders to provide leadership to these young players. Senior defender Anthony Hobbs is one of those being counted on to lead. He was recently in practices with the New Zealand team for the Olympics.
Even though Arena and the team hope to change students’ outlook of men’s soccer, he realizes that the program has gone through recent struggles.
“Even though the last five years have been tough, it doesn’t take away from what FIU is capable of,” said Arena.
If the Panthers look to truly change how people view FIU soccer, then they are going to have to start off the season strong and take advantage of the few home games they will have.
Only seven of the 18 games in 2012 will be held at FIU. Arena, however, sees nothing but positivity coming from their 2012 schedule.
“Every year for me it’s about the experience and the challenge of playing so many road games is exciting,” Arena said.
Though FIU will be looking to get off to a strong start, the team has their eye at the tail-end of the schedule where they begin a tough series of 10 games in which eight of the teams were ranked higher than FIU in the Conference USA standings last year.
“The rankings from last year don’t mean anything. It’s who wins at the end of the day. I’m excited that we are playing teams that did great last year but I feel this year everything is going to be different,” Arena said.
New players, new playbook and even a new head coach. All signs point toward a great year, but Arena and his team have expectations for a national championship. FIU believes they have the players with the right talent, the coaches with the right game plan, and a schedule that will encourage strong players through grinding challenges.
The quest for a tournament berth begins at FIU on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. against Bryant University.