MCGILL: Newcomers, New Style Highlight Beginning of Grassie Era
The Word on the Herd -- Aug. 25, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Chris Grassie debuts as the Marshall University men’s soccer coach Friday night, he can record win No. 100 in his college coaching career.
But the regular season opener against UNC Asheville – which will start at 7 here at Hoops Family Field – is all about the first step for the program under Grassie’s leadership. The 38-year-old native of Newcastle upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom, you’ll come to find, is a confident one. He has only been putting his fingerprints on the Thundering Herd program since he was hired a little more than seven months ago, but that is not stifling his expectations.
“We’re quite excited,” he said this week. “These guys have been excellent; coachable. They work hard as a group. They will run through a brick wall for you. These guys push themselves. We pushed them hard in the preseason to get up to scratch and they have done everything we have asked them to do.
“It took me three years at the University of Charleston to get the program where it needed to be. We’ll see if we can do it quicker here.”
If you’re in need of a refresher course, remember this: Grassie’s UC teams combined to go 99-20-8 in his six seasons there. In his final three seasons with Division II UC, Grassie’s record was 61-7-3, including 32-1-1 at home. His program made three consecutive trips to the Final Four, finishing as the national runner-up twice.
Now Grassie’s task is to mesh 14 newcomers with 11 holdovers from the 2016 roster. The makeup of this year’s roster is one graduate student, seven seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and 11 freshmen.
“We have some guys who have been with the program who are playing very well and some guys who we brought in who are going to help us,” Grassie said. “We have moved some guys around to different positions who have been here before.”
One of those players in transition is Chris Taibi, who played 18 games (17 starts) last season and is one of three players who logged 1,500 minutes who return. Taibi played at the back of the Herd’s defense in 2016, but will be counted on to provide offensive punch under Grassie’s watch.
“He has been a defender his whole life and we have him on the front line,” Grassie said. “He scored a few goals in the spring and now we have him on the right wing. He’s very athletic and has good pace.”
“They will both help us as freshmen,” he said.
“They are going to be a very good partnership,” Grassie said. “Very tough; very strong on the ball.”
Grassie has depth in goal, where transfer Ben Martinez is expected to quickly become a star. Martinez played two seasons at Rio Grande, where he became an NAIA All-American, was named the Most Valuable Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the national tournament, and concluded his freshman season as the KIAC Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll get support from return goalkeeper Nate Himes, who made six appearances for the Herd last season. Kyle Winquist, a freshman from Medina, Ohio, could see action in goal, too.
Grassie expects to use “15 or 16 players,” especially when the team plays two games in three days, like it will this weekend. Marshall also hosts Evansville on Sunday at 1 p.m.
For a while, the lineup will be fluid as he discovers more about his team and more than a dozen newcomers.
“Midfield has been interesting because we have so many new players,” Grassie said. “We could start three freshmen.”
Grassie lauded the team’s depth, and he is anxious to see his team debut and showcase Marshall’s brand of soccer.
“Our No. 1 goal is to score more goals than the opposition,” he said. “No. 2 is to create more chances than the opposition. Can we dictate the area where the game is played? Can we keep the ball more often?
“We are closer to that than we were in the spring, but we have a lot of work to do.”