A season unlike any other for the Tusculum University men’s soccer team awaits as the Pioneers kick off their spring schedule against King University at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Pioneer Field.
When the Pioneers take the pitch, it will be more than 15 months since their last match, a 3-1 loss to Anderson in the South Atlantic Conference quarterfinals on Nov. 10, 2019.
Just two starters are back from what was a senior-laden squad in 2019 – senior back Dani Gongora and junior striker Sander Johansen. Head coach Allen Vital, as has been his method in his 10 years on the sidelines of his alma mater, has heavily invested in international players who will look to secure a fourth SAC Championship in the last seven years.
“Our players and coaches are so excited to get back on the field after such a long time without playing. It will be learning as we go with this group since we’ve had no friendlies to help us test ourselves,” said Vital, who has a 77-64-21 record in nine seasons at Tusculum and a career coaching mark of 243-152-40 (.605 winning percentage). “There is great potential in this bunch. Hopefully we can come together and show it quickly. It’s a great opportunity for so many new players who will be called on to contribute to the team straight away. We are all just happy to be back competing again.”
Johansen (Amot, Norway) scored two goals and had an assist for five points in 12 matches in 2019, including eight starts. Johansen has made 22 appearances in two seasons, scoring four goals and an assist for nine points.
Senior Roy Deutekom (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) played in seven matches and made starts against Young Harris and Wingate. He has 17 career appearances for the Pioneers and one assist. Sophomore Harry Easterby (St. Albans, England) played in four games as a freshman, making his first career start against Shaw and taking four shots at goal in the contest.
Sophomore Damien Baltide (Fort-de-France, Martinique) joins the program after he played in 16 matches for Indian Hills CC as a freshman and collected six goals and five assists. Sophomore Matheus Assuncao (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) appeared in 12 games as a freshman at Johnson University, where he made four starts and scored one goal. Another sophomore transfer, Ignacio Alconchel (Palma del Rio, Spain), scored six goals in 12 games as a freshman for Mercer County CC.
A familiar face to the program is freshman Jean-Pierre Vital (Greeneville), who will play for his father after an illustrious career at state powerhouse Greeneville High School. Vital helped the Greene Devils to three straight state championships, twice scoring the winning goal, and finished his career with 120 goals.
Also joining the Pioneers this season are freshmen Andre Adrien (Montreal, Quebec) and Cristobal Morales (Santiago, Chile).
A whole new group will take to the pitch for the Pioneers after graduation took a toll on the midfield unit for the Pioneers.
Junior Lucas Romeiro (Vila Velha, Brazil) brings the most collegiate experience to the unit, having played two seasons at Georgia Military College. Romeiro had seven goals and six assists for 20 points in his sophomore season of 2018, after making 10 appearances and four starts as a freshman.
Among the other newcomers are senior Marcos Franco (Madrid, Spain), sophomore Bryan Crespo (Brossard, Quebec) and freshmen Andres Lagos (Concon, Chile), Pedro Concheso (Gijon, Spain), Matt Joki (Duluth, Minn.) and Michele Di Miele (Weston, Fla.).
Senior Dani Gongora (Malaga, Spain) was a preseason second-team All-SAC selection after starting 15 matches during the 2019 season. He has made 28 career appearances for the Pioneers and has two assists, one in each of the last two seasons.
Junior Xavi Sandoica (Tarragona, Spain) played in 11 matches during the 2019 season, with three starts. Sophomore Tyrell Squire (Bristol, England) came off the bench in three appearances for the Pioneers as a freshman, playing a total of 35 minutes.
Other returnees in the program are junior Vinicius Rosario (Sao Paulo, Brazil), sophomores Marc Caceres (Sant Cugat Del Valles, Spain), Phillip Hall (Dayton), Ira Heppard (New York, N.Y.) and Asiimwe Ironside (Knoxville).
Senior Rodrigo Pascual (Madrid, Spain) was a two-year starter at Indian Hills Community College, where he tallied two goals and 11 assists in 37 career matches.
A trio of freshmen join the Pioneer program, as Vital welcomes Pedro Bolizan (Montverde, Fla.), Alejandro De Mingo (Madrid, Spain) and Rasmus Nylander (Sundsvall, Sweden).
Sophomore Bruno De Freitas (Indaiatuba, Brzail) is a transfer from Marshalltown Community College, where he played seven matches as a freshman and had a 5-0-2 record with two shutouts and a 0.42 goals against average. Freshman Joao Kozlowski (Orlando, Florida) also joins the program after he was an All-Conference selection at Windemere High School.
Sophomore Yu-Liang Chu (Reedley, Calif.) was the third-string keeper for the Pioneers last season after playing his prep soccer at IMG Academy.