It’s never easy replacing three first-team All-State selections, but that is exactly the task Utica Eisenhower coach Josh VanHouten is facing.
The transition to find new goal-scorers was apparent in the Eagles’ season-opening contest, falling 1-0 to Fraser, a team it has not lost to in several years. The Eagles were in position to equalize several times, but they appeared to be gun-shy when given the opportunity to shoot.
“At times, it seemed like we were dominating the game; we could’ve had one or two goals, and it would’ve been a different ball game,” VanHouten said. “We seemed to get the ball out of the defense into the midfield, and then when we got to the final third, no one wanted to shoot. They wanted to make that pretty pass or take an additional touch, and no one could just fire it in there.”
The Eagles lost three key senior members from last year’s team, which went 19-2 and won a MAC Red Division title. Ryan Goike, who is now playing at Detroit Mercy, was a 30-goal scorer while being named a member of last year’s Dream Team, and he was also nominated for Mr. Soccer. Tyler Armstrong, a midfielder, and keeper Luke Dalach were also named first team All-State.
VanHouten said that although his team currently lacks a superstar scorer, his team will be anchored in the back half, which will keep them in every game.
“It’s just a matter of, if we’re going to lose this year, it’s going to be a 1-0 game. We have a good defense, good keeper and midfield. It’s just a matter of finding someone to put the ball in the net,” VanHouten said.
The Aug. 23 contest against Fraser provided some encouragement for VanHouten, as his defense kept the Eagles within striking distance of Fraser.
“They played really well. I have four returners, which is the biggest component of my team. Again, we’re missing some players from last year, but we need to have players to step up, to get comfortable and find out who we are.”
The four returning senior defenders for Eisenhower are Steve Lowe, Tyler Lewalski, Luke Pryg and Grant Harrison. Those four, along with senior forward Olaf Szemraj, form the core of the Eagles.
“It’s one of those things where we have to learn on the fly. This is not going to be the same Eisenhower team that we’ve had in the past. This is going to be a team where we learn from our mistakes — hopefully, put it together by the time we can make a run either at our league or in the playoffs,” VanHouten said.
Eisenhower begin league play in the MAC Red Division Sept. 9 in a road game against Utica Ford.