2017 DU Men’s Soccer Preview: Pioneers poised for more success

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As the University of Denver continues to establish itself as an athletically dominant force on a national scale, the Pioneer Men’s Soccer program has contributed to that success with its recent elite success.

Ranked No. 3 in the United Soccer Coaches preseason poll, the DU Pioneers have excelled as a program with a berth in the 2016 College Cup while maintaining a 35-match regular season unbeaten streak dating back to Halloween 2014. Denver is the first program to finish unbeaten throughout two consecutive seasons since Clemson University did so in 1977-78.

Man Behind the Operation

Head Coach Jamie Franks enters his third season at the helm and sixth with the program. At the ripe age of just 30-years old, Franks has transformed the program into a perennial national contender and redefined an era of Denver soccer based on a culture of precision and class. Franks, who played for national power Wake Forest, led his alma mater to the 2007 national championship. Since taking over at DU, he has instilled a level of confidence and drive necessary for the Pioneers to claim their first national title in school history.

Cultivating trust, ownership, passion, and patience, the players are motivated and suited to reach success under Franks’ guidance.

Returners Primed for Action

Despite the early departure of Kortne Ford, Denver’s defensive unit remains steadily in-tact. With returners, redshirt junior Nick Gardner in goal, a backline pivoted by redshirt junior Scott DeVoss in the center, and support on the outside from senior A.J. Fuller and redshirt sophomore Dan Mooney, the Pioneers’ defense is bound to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Franks notes that with Ford’s absence, DeVoss is expected to have a breakthrough year as he has grown into his upperclassman role and built confidence playing his position.

Ford became integral on converting DU’s set pieces as he tallied five goals in his final campaign for the Crimson and Gold, including the game-winner to send the Pioneers past Clemson and into the College Cup. DeVoss is expected to fulfill that role and help continue to establish DU’s dominance on free-kicks.

In the midfield, Graham Smith will anchor Denver from its core with his defensive strengths and ability to read the field in its entirety. Alex Underwood will finish out his senior season as a weapon along the flanks. Underwood’s flexibility to alternate sides, cash in chances on net, and incredible athleticism will continue to provide the Pioneers with an offensive edge.

Up top, senior Blake Elder will create a ruckus with his tenacity and lethal shot in tight-angles. Alongside Elder returns foreign talent, Brazilian native Andre Shinyashiki and Japanese native Kenny Akamatsu. Both are legitimate goal-scoring threats with their cunning footwork and their extraordinary speed on and off the ball.

Endurance and Execution

Not only one of the most skilled teams in the nation, the Pioneers are one of the fittest. The team earned a result in most of their matches requiring additional time. Playing over 90 minutes, at times up-to 110 minutes of competition, Denver’s determination and resilience is highlighted by the program’s ability to emerge victorious and fight for much-needed victories.

The Pios are immensely poised and modest despite their ascent to elite status. While winning a national title is the ultimate goal, the players are always focused on one game at a time and have a mature understanding of the significance of the journey to becoming a champion.

Fueling the Future  

As a program, the successes the Pioneers have earned is flattering and humbling but remains hollow until a national title is clinched. Denver is continuously charged season-by-season to maintain its excellence, but strives to be the best, as their goal has become within reach with every passing year.

The heartache of recent seasons is the driving force, confirming the program’s direction towards a national championship and intensifies the respect and faith among teammates and coaching staff.

Talent at Top-Tier Levels

Four players have since continued their careers at the professional level under Franks’ instruction. Midfielders Jordan Schweitzer (‘16) and Sam Hamilton (‘17) resumed their careers with the Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids, respectively. Outside back Reagan Dunk (‘17) was drafted to Real Salt Lake, while centerback Kortne Ford forewent his senior year to join the Rapids’ roster.

Denver’s recent success has caught the attention of professional programs and made professional careers realistic outcomes for players attending DU.

Road to Philly

The Pioneers’ journey to Philadelphia (home of the 2017 NCAA College Cup) opens with a home game against Florida Gulf Coast on Friday, August 25 at 7:30 p.m. Opponent-by-opponent, game-by-game, Denver will embark on their latest chance to make history and pin DU on the map of powerhouse programs.