EVANSTON, Ill. – In search of an unprecedented seventh-straight Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season championship and fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in only six years of eligibility, the FGCU men’s soccer team opens its 2016 season on the road at Big Ten member Northwestern Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. local).
Earlier this month, the Eagles – who are receiving votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Preseason Poll – were installed as the ASUN favorites. FGCU and Northwestern will be meeting for the first time, and it will also be the first soccer game played at the Wildcats’ Martin Stadium. Renovations were completed last spring, with the largest impact on the Eagles likely coming in the form of a new turf surface.
In addition to being selected as the ASUN favorites, a trio of Eagles were named to the Preseason All-Conference Team: Nicolas Samayoa, Miguel Jaime and Albert Ruiz, with Samayoa being selected as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and Ruiz being the only unanimous selection to the 14-player team.
The Green and Blue lost six starters off last year’s team, but return 17 letterwinners, including three of their top four scorers: Ruiz (16: 7g, 2a), Dylan Sacramento (Winnipeg, Manitoba/York University/Bill Crothers S.S.) (13: 6g, 1a) and Jaime (6: 2g, 2a). Overall, six of FGCU’s top eight scorers are back, including several members of a defensive unit that once again paced the ASUN in preventing goals by a wide margin.
Arguably the biggest question for the Eagles entering the season rests between the pipes as ASUN career shutout leader Nathan Ingham (26) is gone following portions of five seasons as the Green and Blue’s starting keeper. The lone returning goalkeeper is sophomore Sawyer Jackman (Chicago, Ill./St. Charles East HS), who posted a 2-1-0 record in just more than 220 minutes of action last year while filling in for the injured Ingham. He is joined on the roster by freshmen keepers Jared Brown (Aurora, Ontario/St. Maximilian Kolbe CHS) and Gustavo Vasconcelos (Recife, Brazil/Colegio GGE) and graduate student Jack Blatchford III (Douglas, Mass./Bentley/Douglas HS).
Northwestern finished the 2015 campaign with a 7-9-2 record and 4-4 showing in Big Ten action, which was good for a tie for third in the league standings. Like the Eagles, the Wildcats will have a new man in net as Zak Allen, who started all 18 matches last year, graduated.
Each of Northwestern’s top-five point getters from 2015 are back, led by senior forward Mike Roberge who tallied nine points off four goals and an assist. Seniors Nathan Dearth, Brandon Medina and Jeffrey Hopson all earned Big Ten preseason honors, with midfielder Medina returning for the 2016 season after missing last year with a leg injury.
The Wildcats are led by 16th-year head coach Tim Lenahan. During his tenure at the campus just outside Chicago, Lenehan has guided Northwestern to nine NCAA Tournament appearances – with the most recent coming in 2014 – and a pair of Big Ten regular-season titles in 2011 and 2012.
BIG TEN FAMILIARITY
Northwestern will be the first of three Big Ten opponents the Eagles will face in 2016. The second meeting will come very quickly as the Green and Blue return home to face Michigan for their home opener Monday night at 7. The final regular-season meeting against a Big Ten foe for the Eagles will come at Rutgers on Sept. 27.
FGCU returns a core defensive unit that paced the ASUN in goals allowed (13 – nine fewer than any other team), goals-against average (0.88 – 0.45 better than any other team) and shutouts (seven – two more than any other team) last year. During conference matches, the Eagles scored 14 more goals than their opponents, allowing just one goal in their five ASUN games.
INSIDE THE ASUN PRESEASON TEAM
Samayoa (Guatemala City, Guatemala/Colegio Valle Verde) is coming off an ASUN Second Team selection in 2015 as he started all 12 of the games he appeared in as a defender.
Jaime (Denver, Colo./Cherry Creek HS) was an ASUN Second Team selection as a sophomore in 2015. He started 11 of the 12 games he played in at the midfield position.
Ruiz (Barcelona, Spain/UE Cornella/CE L’Hospitalet) posted one of the most explosive offensive seasons in program history in 2015 en route to being named an ASUN First Team selection.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS UP FRONT
FGCU returns two of the most lethal strikers in not only the ASUN, but possibly the country, in Ruiz and Sacramento. Combined, the forwards were responsible for half (13 of 26) of FGCU’s goals last year and nearly 40 percent of the team’s points (29 of 75).
Ruiz led FGCU in points (16) and goals (seven) to rank fifth in the ASUN in both categories. The 16 points were one shy of tying the single-season program record, and his 1.45 points per game average was the highest in single-season program history and ranked third in the league. What made the campaign even more impressive is that he missed the first five games of the season with an injury. Ruiz tied the single-season program record with seven goals, going a perfect 5-5 on penalty kicks to break the program’s all-time mark of four. Additionally, his 0.65 goals per game average were the most in single-season program history and ranked second in the ASUN.
Sacramento was an ASUN Second Team member last year after finishing second on FGCU and sixth in the league with six goals. He added one assist for 13 points, the third-most on the Eagles and eighth-most in the league. Sacramento’s six goals were one shy of matching the single-season program record held by four players, and his 0.60 goals per game and 1.30 points per game were the second-best in single-season program history. Like Ruiz, what made Sacramento’s season even more impressive was that he only played in 10 games and logged 439 minutes – averaging out to one point every 34 minutes of action.
BREAKING DOWN THE SCHEDULE
FGCU’s 2016 schedule features 11 non-league matchups, eight home contests (all scheduled for 7 p.m. starts) and nine road competitions. Four opponents made 2015 NCAA Tournament appearances and four accumulated double-figure wins last season. Eight teams join FGCU in having finished in the top 100 of the RPI last year, three of which were inside the top 30.
2015 IN REVIEW
FGCU claimed a sixth-straight ASUN regular-season crown with a 4-0-1 mark in 2015 as part of a 7-4-3 overall record against one of the strongest non-conference schedules in the nation. FGCU was ranked nationally for nearly half of last season, climbing as high as #19. The Eagles led the league in points per game at 5.36 (next closest: North Florida, 5.00) and assists per game at 1.64 (next closest: North Florida, 1.33).
The Green and Blue produced three professional players off its 2015 roster: Rodrigo Saravia (MLS, Columbus Crew SC), Aaron Guillen (MLS, FC Dallas) and Ingham (NASL, FC Edmonton). Saravia was named ASUN Player of the Year, Guillen was tabbed as the ASUN Defensive Player of the Year and Ingham was garnered with ASUN Goalkeeper of the Year superlatives. Additionally, head coach Bob Butehorn was named ASUN Co-Coach of the Year.
DID YOU KNOW?
FGCU owns the longest home conference regular-season unbeaten streak in the nation at 28 straight (25-0-3). The Eagles have not lost a home ASUN regular-season game in nearly eight years, dating back to a 2-0 defeat against Jacksonville in October of 2008 – the program’s second season.
FGCU will open the home portion of its 2016 schedule against the Michigan Wolverines at the FGCU Soccer Complex on Monday, Aug. 29, at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available and can be secured by clicking here. The team will be holding a poster signing after the game, and all fans in attendance are encouraged to wear green.
Season and single-game tickets are available for the 2016 campaign, with season tickets starting at just $35. More information, including special discounts and group rates, can be accessed by visiting FGCUTickets.com. To purchase tickets, or for additional inquiries, call the FGCU Ticket Office at 239-590-7145 Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the FGCU men’s soccer program, follow on Twitter @FGCU_MSoccer, Instagram @FGCU_MSoccer, Facebook /FGCUMSoccer and YouTube /FGCUAthletics.
FGCU is led by Bob Butehorn, who has coached six professional players and 54 A-Sun All-Conference selections since FGCU started its program in 2007. In just five years of postseason eligibility, Butehorn has guided FGCU to three A-Sun Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances – in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – and has won an unprecedented six-straight A-Sun regular-season championships. His teams have been ranked nationally on several occasions by multiple media outlets. Having completed his 13th season as a head coach, Butehorn has a 115-90-25 (.554) overall record, 81-58-21 (.572) mark in his nine seasons at FGCU and 48-17-6 (.718) record in A-Sun contests.
SUPPORT THE CAUSE
FGCU Athletics sponsors events throughout the year to benefit the FGCU Campus Food Pantry (www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry) and the Harry Chapin Food Bank (www.harrychapinfoodbank.org), FGCU Athletics’ charities of choice. For more information, including how to make a contribution, please visit www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry and utilize the hashtag #FeedFGCU to help raise awareness.