The NC State men’s soccer team might have ended the season on a sour note with its 3-2 overtime defeat in the first round of the NCAA Championship, but this season had a number of positives and the future looks bright for this program. Here are a handful of takeaways from the season:
Vinnie Durand answered the call
When junior Leon Krapf went down in the second half of the first game of the season, a lot of people had questions about his replacement. Redshirt senior Vinnie Durand took very little time to answer those questions.
“I’m happy I got that opportunity that I did,” Durand said after the team’s loss to Coastal Carolina. “I think I took advantage of it. I’m happy with the way the team responded. When you have one of your leaders go down like Leon, people ask questions. I don’t think there was much doubt. I have been training for it my whole life and talking to Leon, he agreed. I was ready. Having the team behind me, it made me feel at ease. And that's pretty special because not many teams can react like that. I’m just thankful. Very thankful for this program, for the team, how I got to end my career at NC State, I might not have made it to what I wanted to in the end, but I mean you can’t really pick a better end to a story for someone like me, what I’ve been through. So in that aspect, I’m happy, but in the moment right now I’m sad.”
Prior to this season, Durand had not played in an official match in his college career, but when it mattered, he made the most out of his final season. Durand made 41 saves this season across 19 games and allowed 24 goals. Durand’s play was one of the reasons the Wolfpack’s defense was so strong this year, but he was not alone in the back.
Building from the back
Head coach George Kiefer appears to be building his program with a defense-first mentality. That isn’t to say this team lacks offensive talent as junior midfielder David Loera and sophomore forward Kuda Muskwe both had solid seasons in the attack, but it is clear the best underclassmen on this team reside in the back line.
Of the four members of the center back rotation only junior captain David Norris had played a game for the Pack prior to this season as the rest of the ranks consisted of two freshmen, Pablo Pedregosa and Kendall Edwards, and junior transfer Jamie Smith.
“They don't feel like they’re young on the field,” Durand said. “I trust all those guys. And I know they got my back. Heck, half the times over the season if I thought I got beat, who was there to slide in? My back line. I mean, those boys came up big over and over again. And I think the maturity is just going to continue to grow for all of them. I mean Norris is instrumental to this team, he is huge. Jamie came in, he did a good job. Kendall came in when he was called upon; excellent. Pablo; I can't tell you the amount of times I thought we were screwed, and Pablo came up and did something immaculate or played a great ball through. Aidan [Foster] did a great job and he was back there. Pepe [Garcia]. I mean, this team is special. People say yeah, they're young, but I think we've got a unique culture here at NC State that we've been pushing since I got here and I think the maturity levels of this team is just going in the right direction.”
With all of these players returning to the lineup next season, and Krapf making his return from injury, the Wolfpack’s defense could be even better next season.
Loera’s last ride
Loera is one of those players who just passes the eye test. When you watch him play you can tell that he has bags of ability. As much as most Wolfpack fans would love to see Loera play on Dail Soccer Field, his ceiling is a lot higher than college soccer, not to mention the whole four years of eligibility.
Kiefer has already stated that Loera is going to make a “great pro”, but what can we expect from the dynamic midfielder next year? The simple answer is a lot.
Having already racked up 24 goal contributions, nine goals and 15 assists, Loera has built an impressive resume over the past three years, but a strong senior season could make a huge difference in where he decides to play.
The ending to the season was rough, losing to Coastal Carolina in that manner stings, especially for the seniors whose last game it was, but this season had a lot of positives. With a young defense gaining confidence with each game and a good core of veterans, the program Kiefer has built over the last few seasons has not plateaued yet.