WINONA LAKE – Grace’s men’s soccer team is days away from starting the 2019 season under first-year head coach Arron Patrick.
Patrick is no stranger to the Crossroads League, however, coaching at Goshen and playing at Bethel. The Grimsby, England, native had high remarks for the Lancers entering the fall season.
“I’m really excited to have the boys back on campus, to keep building relationships with the players and to watch them build with each other,” Patrick said. “The team worked hard over the summer break and came back really fit. I’ve been really happy with our training sessions so far; it’s a very competitive environment.”
Patrick will be able to lean on a number of core returners, including the team’s top three goalscorers from a season ago. Cody Boerema (12 goals), Ulisses Miranda (six) and Marcelo Talamas (six) give Grace a dangerous front, and the upperclassmen are poised for another productive year in attack.
Togo Narusawa will be counted on to direct Grace’s midfield after making 20 starts last season, accounting for four goals and three assists.
Grace’s defense may be the largest question mark entering the 2019 campaign. Grace graduated several important facets of the back line, highlighted by All-American goalkeeper Kurt Hamlin (11 shutouts in 2018).
Colton Wottring learned during his freshman season under Hamlin, and he is ready for a larger role this fall. Patrick has been impressed with Wottring’s work ethic during the offseason, noting “he’s the kind of kid that every coach loves to have; he’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen.”
Wottring will be joined by freshman Gonzalo Salo, an Argentinian goalkeeper who has strong foot skills and experience.
Ivan Santagiuliana started in all 23 games last year as a center back, and he is back to lead a new wave of defenders. A pair of freshman defenders from Germany, David Koch and Philipp Arnold, are expected to push for time immediately. Gabriel Osti and Cole Voss also return after playing significant time defensively last year.
Patrick was especially keen on the Lancers’ depth this year, with multiple players at each position capable of handling important minutes. Patrick believes there are more than 20 players who could start any given day, which gives him flexibility to approach each game.
“I’ve never coached a team this deep. There is tremendous competitiveness and intensity, which I love,” Patrick said. “We are very flexible, so we can make specific changes with players based on our personnel and opponent. It will be fun to see how diverse we can be in the tactical side of the game.”
Grace also boasts one of the most diverse rosters in the region. Of the 29 players on Grace’s active roster, nearly half (14) are from outside the US; seven international players entered the Lancers’ squad this offseason alone.
Patrick called the team’s diversity one of their biggest strengths. Each player brings his own style of play into the Lancers’ lineup, even thinking about the game uniquely than a player from another country, according to Patrick.
“The diversity that we have makes us special. Other teams don’t have that,” Patrick said. “We are blessed to have the support of our administration to make the international aspect work. The makeup of our roster is truly special.”
Patrick was also encouraged by the team’s spiritual growth in the preseason. He commented that the spiritual opportunities were exciting in part because of the various starting places in each player’s faith.
“We come to Grace at many different places spiritually, but for me as a coach, that’s the biggest opportunity. I want to mentor these guys like I’ve been mentored; to help them know the Lord and to love on them,” Patrick said. “I was fortunate in my life to have people mentor and love me, and that’s what I’m passionate about. My life changed because I initially came to the US to play football. Now I’m here to follow Jesus.”
The Lancers will get the season underway with three home matches in a six-day stretch. Grace will have an exhibition game on Friday at 5 p.m. against IU East, held at the soccer pitch on Grace’s Key Track and Field Complex. The season officially opens next week with a 7 p.m. match against Rochester on Aug. 19 at 1st Source Bank Field. On Aug. 22, Grace will host a 7 p.m. game against Georgia Gwinnett, who finished the year ranked No. 12 in the NAIA.