Aug. 12, 2014
By CHRIS DICKERSON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The 2013 Marshall men’s soccer season did not play out as well as Coach Bob Gray and the Thundering Herd would have liked.
The Herd was 2-11-6 last season – the worst record in Gray’s nearly 40-year coaching career – and 0-6-3 in the perennially tough Conference USA. The squad struggled to score, being shut out eight times and scoring more than one goal only twice.
It also didn’t post a victory after Sept. 16, ending the season with 12 consecutive losses or ties.
Still, Gray has found a few rays of sunshine in that dreary season to give him enough optimism to wear sunglasses as he looks forward to this fall’s campaign.
“I use the term ‘cautiously optimistic’ and, ironically, I’m really excited about this season,” said Gray, who is entering his 20th season at Marshall. “We all are excited about getting started.
“Last year was a tough one, no doubt about it. But in hindsight, I look at how young we were. We had lost seven or eight seniors from the previous season (including 2012 Conference USA Co-Player of the Year and current MLS goalkeeper Daniel Withrow). We were extremely young and immature and, quite frankly, we played an unbelievably strong schedule.
“That schedule was maybe the toughest in the 20 years I’ve been here. And that might have been kind of stupid on my part, to be honest.”
Still, Gray takes a live-and-learn approach to the tough schedule.
“We were very competitive in every game we played,” he said. “We lost a lot of close games, and we didn’t’ take advantage of some opportunities given to us in some of the games.”
This year, his roster included 15 returning players, 12 of whom have starting experience.
“We have one senior this year (goaltender Danny Sellitti), and we have a very good core of juniors,” Gray said. “And they are very hungry. They want to be successful. They had a good freshman year, and want to get the program back to that level”
Gray also is optimistic about the class of players coming into the program.
“Cross my fingers, we really succeeded in recruiting what we needed,” said Gray, whose 424 career victories ranks 10th all-time in Division I and fourth among active Division I coaches. “We needed some offensive players, and we have two very good international kids who can play up front.
“One is Scott Doney, a 6-foot-4 forward from New Zealand who played on their U20 national team. He scores goals. The other is Goran Bratic, a big forward from Serbia. He’s another guy who scores goals.
“And we picked up a couple of transfers in the spring -- Ryan Forde, who transferred from Concord University, in particular had a great spring season. He’s a hard-nosed English kid who loves to mix it up.”
If nothing else, Gray said the team will be a big one.
“We’re going to be one of the biggest teams in Division I this year,” he said. “We have a tall team. I hope we aren’t tall and slow. And, of course, the big question mark is our goalkeeping position. Last year, we really didn’t fill Daniel’s shoes.
“But this year, we have two who we think are very good going to compete for the job. Bijan Gloston dropped a bunch of weight this summer and is eager to get started. He had a great international experience this summer. And the other is Dominik Reining, a German kid coming into the program.”
Gray said he needs juniors such as Nick Edginton, a 6-4 defender/midfielder from New Zealand, to step up and take a leadership role on the team.
“Nick has started the last two years,” Gray said. “He’s a big physical presence in the center of the field for us, and he’s as competitive as hell. That’s what you need. And for a big man, he has really soft feet, which is good.”
“What Nick and some of the others need to do is mature and take more ownership of the team. If they do that, it’ll be a real positive for us.”
Edginton said he’s ready for the challenge.
“The team is definitely very optimistic about this fall,” he said. “Last season is behind us. The older guys now need to take control of the team and lead us in the right direction. It’s also great that we have a good big class of freshman coming in.”
Even after the disappointing 2013 seasons, Edginton said the team has high goals.
“I think we all do actually expect big things,” he said. “We do expect to have a winning record. We expect to go to conference tournament, and we want to gain a little bit of our respect back.
“We are determined to do well.”
Despite C-USA again being a powerful league (New Mexico, Charlotte and Old Dominion are named in the national preseason rankings), Gray says the schedule is favorable to the Herd. Marshall is ranked eighth out of nine teams in the league’s preseason poll.
The Herd opens with its two exhibitions – both at home – against Bowling Green (Aug. 20) and Radford (Aug. 23). The regular-season opener is Aug. 29 against visiting Duquesne. Including the exhibitions, Gray’s team plays six of its first seven dates at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex.
“We’re starting off with several home games right off the bat,” said Gray, who boasts a 169-163-29 record at Marshall. “And that’s always good.
“Still, we’re in one of the toughest conferences in the country. We have three affiliate teams in Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico. Two of them are SEC schools with SEC money, and New Mexico went to the College Cup final four last year.
“The league is powerhouse teams from top to bottom, but it’s a challenge we look forward to. I really am very excited about the fall.”
Chris Dickerson, a Marshall graduate and former sportswriter and city editor at two West Virginia daily newspapers, is editor of the West Virginia Record and an adjunct journalism professor at MU. This story first appeared in this week’s issue of the Herd Insider.