Soccer Preview: Ten Players to Watch This Season

I spent most of this summer watching World Cup games with crazy fans in Europe. It was awesome, but getting paid to sit under the shining California sun every Wednesday and Saturday watching Pomona-Pitzer is probably the next best thing. To help give you the urge to come out and watch, too, here’s a look at the soccer season so far and the team’s returning players.

As of Sept. 20, the men’s soccer team is struggling—it’s currently 0-2 in SCIAC conference play and 0-5 in preseason. The team’s slow start is puzzling given that the team has a wealth of veteran talent and leadership on which to draw. If P-P were a World Cup team, they would be Italy—heavy favorites that disappointed in the first few matches. The difference between SCIAC and the World Cup, however, is that in SCIAC you get a full 14-game season to bounce back. As Ice Cube once said, “Life ain’t a track meet – it’s a marathon”—and the Sagehens still have a long race to run in their quest to defend their SCIAC title.

Speaking of titles, the Sagehens are defending their first SCIAC title since 2004. Last year, the team managed an impressive 11-1-2 record in-conference. They went for over a month without losing a game, maintained their hold on the Golden Boot (given annually to the team with the better record in the CMS-PP rivalry), and set single-season SCIAC records in a number of statistical categories.

Now, without further ado, let’s meet some of the returning players who will feature prominently this year:

Eben Perkins ‘11 #9 Center Back

Pro Comparison: Nemanja Vidic

Championships are built on defense, and what better person to build a defense around than the reigning SCIAC Player of the Year? Last year, league coaches recognized Perkins’ Darrelle Revis-esque shutdown ability by voting him all-around Player of the Year in a postseason poll. This was an especially significant accomplishment seeing as the award usually goes to goal-scoring forwards. The goals that are scored are always recorded in spectators’ memories and in the final stat sheet; goals that are prevented are often quickly forgotten, meaning Perkins must have been a truly dominant force in order to get himself noticed. Perkins is a human Patriot missile system when it comes to intercepting crosses and defending P-P airspace. At 6’5”, he can use all of his lanky, gazelle-like frame to keep the ball away from goal by any means necessary.

Look out for: Third-person cries of “Eben’s ball,” followed by powerful clearances.

Alec Larson ‘11 #21 Center Back

Pro Comparison: Lucio

Great things come in pairs, and Larson, the second anchor of the P-P central defense, is a four-year starter and returning First Team All-SCIAC player. Though he is a center back, he has some offensive tendencies—he takes most of the team’s outside free kicks and occasionally gets forward himself. A calm, thorough player with the touch of an erotic masseuse, Larson has worked with Perkins for most of their four years here, and the two have developed an unspoken chemistry. Like steel reinforcing concrete, Alec and Eben complement each other’s styles and solidify the entire P-P defense.

Look out for: Good surprises. Larson will juke onrushing forwards even when he’s the last man back. He’ll play one-touch balls even when he has extra time and space. With Alec, you have to expect the unexpected.

Erik Munzer ‘13 #5 Striker

Pro Comparison: Jozy Altidore

If Tim Tebow played soccer, he would play like Munzer does. Strength, grit, toughness, moxie, pluck, nerve, guts—Munzer has it all, and it shows in every touch. The two-sport athlete (he also hits cleanup on the baseball team) is so gifted that he switched positions from defender to forward at the beginning of this season. Following in the P-P tradition of converting defenders into strikers (longtime fans will remember that Zach Burke did the same thing last season), the Erik Munzer Experiment has met with mixed reviews thus far (he’s netted just one goal in five games, but then again, the team has only scored three overall). However, given his size, speed, touch, and quick learning curve, it’s only a matter of time before Munzer finds his niche and starts dicing up defenses.

Look out for: Cartoonish displays of one v. one physical dominance. I was watching a game last week, and the number of defenders who just bounced off Munzer as he stayed on his feet and kept control of the ball was astonishing. It was like watching Mike Tyson play Red Rover with kindergarteners.

Danny Nasry ‘13 #6 Attacking Midfielder

Pro Comparison: Lionel Messi

Checking in at just 5’8” and 150 pounds when he’s soaking wet, Nasry is the diminutive dribbling dynamo powering the Pomona-Pitzer attack. Nasry is that rare type of player who can take on three defenders at a time and leave them all gasping for air. Blessed with preternatural quickness and agility, Nasry plays a very Messi-like (Messianic?) role as a central attacking midfielder in the Sagehen offense. Some independent spectators believe that P-P’s slow start – especially its lack of goals – were the result of Nasry missing the first four games after suffering an unfortunate foot injury.

Look out for: Dribbling. Lots of it. Moves that make you wish P-P’s field had a JumboTron with instant replay. Opposing defenders being carted off the field with broken ankles. You get the picture.

Zach Mirman ‘11 #8 Outside Back/Midfielder

Pro Comparison: Dani Alves

A very versatile player with well-honed field vision and technique, Mirman has started at a number of different positions over his three years playing for the Sagehens. Wherever he plays, though, Mirman can be counted on to show up in the referee’s match notebook for at least one of three reasons: 1) as team captain, for the second year in a row; 2) as a penalty kick-taking specialist; or 3) as the team’s leader in yellow cards received, a statistic which reflects his intensity on the field.

Look out for: Constant motion. Mirman can and has played defender, midfield, and striker in the same game, and he rarely stays still when he’s on the field.

Evan Munoz ‘12 #13 Striker

Pro Comparison: Cristiano Ronaldo

P-P’s faux-hawked young gun Munoz had a knack for scoring clutch goals last season. Nicknamed “Turbo,” Munoz has quick feet and an Houdini-like ability to escape pressure and create space for himself. If the Pomona-Pitzer team were made up of Super Smash Bros. characters, the 5’8” Turbo would be Yoshi (in case you were wondering, his striking partner, Erik Munzer, would be Bowser). This year, Munoz will attempt to continue his hot streak from the end of last season.

Look out for: Stepover fakes. Munoz’s stepovers are simple, elegant, and effective.

Sean Wales ‘11 #14 Outside Back

Pro Comparison: John Terry

Wales is a fundamentally solid and reliable outside back. Over his four-year P-P career, he has seen intermittent playing time, but has held down the right side of the defense during some of the most crucial stretches of play. After improving his game and overall soccer intelligence during his semester abroad in Spain, Wales has earned the right to start and brings a great deal of experience to the Sagehen back line.

Look for: Pass interceptions. Wales has an uncanny ability to anticipate and sniff out through balls before opposing forwards can even get a touch.

Gator Halpern ‘12 #7 Outside Midfielder

Pro Comparison: Clint Dempsey

Gator is the youngest of three Halpern brothers with interesting first names to play soccer at the Claremont Colleges (Moose and Griffin played at CMC). On last year’s SCIAC-champion team, Halpern emerged as a consistent playmaker despite having to fight for a starting position. Fast, scrappy, and known for his excellent crosses, Halpern is a prototypical outside midfielder who consistently threatens to be a game-changer with perfectly-placed passes.

Look out for: Through balls. Halpern is very skilled at slotting the ball behind the defense.

Robbie Hull ‘13 #4 Central midfielder

Pro Comparison: Steven Gerrard

Starting at central midfield as a freshman last year, Hull was thrown into the heart of one of the most talented SCIAC teams in recent memory and performed admirably. Now, with a year of experience under his belt, he will be asked to step up and take on an even greater leadership role. Hull is a natural playmaker; however, as of press time his partner in the central midfield is undetermined. Mirman, Pitzer junior Franco Simbana, and Pomona freshman Harris Levin are all in the running. The final selection will be key to the overall chemistry of the team.

Look out for: Physical presence. Hull is one of the strongest players on the field; he can hold his own and put other players off their touch.

Rollie Thayer ‘13 Goalkeeper

Pro Comparison: Iker Casillas

Is it clichéd to compare Pomona’s goalie to the best in the world? Not if Thayer, to quote ESPN.com’s description of Casillas, is “what anyone would like their goalie to be: boring and reliable.” Not if he “possesses superior reflexes and positioning” and is “composed and deals solidly with aerial crosses.” And certainly not if he helps lead his team to pick up some long-overdue hardware.

Look out for: Communication and back-passes. Thayer has a good relationship with his defenders and is comfortable receiving the ball at his feet.

Special thanks to Phil Halpern for his highly informative fan website, sagehensoccer.shutterfly.com.

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