The restructuring of the St. Louis University soccer team produced 14 new players and a recruiting class that has been ranked as high as No. 5 in the country.
For that reason, there will be considerable mystery surrounding the 2019 Billikens when they open the season Saturday night against ninth-ranked Notre Dame at Hermann Stadium at 7.
The other reason for the mystery is coach Kevin Kalish. Entering his second season, Kalish has been guarded in offering information about a team that was picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10.
Who’s starting? Who’s injured? Who’s in goal? Those things will begin to reveal themselves when a season with increased expectations begins.
SLU played three exhibition games, earning ties with Wisconsin and Missouri State and a win over Eastern Illinois.
“I was really pleased with the progress the group made,” Kalish said. “We told them we were trying to figure out the lineup. We’ve got a lot of good players in a lot of good spots. So, we wanted to evaluate and be able to build our identity. There were some good moments in all three games.”
The Billikens had three players named to the A-10 preseason all-conference team: sophomore midfielder John Klein, who was the A-10 freshman of the year; senior defender Quayyum Murana; and sophomore forward Simon Becher, who transferred from Holy Cross.
Becher is one of the pieces that has the recruiting class ranked so highly, although he has been injured and unable to play thus far. Another is freshman goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, who Kalish has called one of the top goalkeepers in the country.
However, he would not say if Schulte or senior Ty Frederking would face Notre Dame. It was announced Friday, that Schulte will leave Sunday to join the U.S. under-20 national team for a training camp and two games in Slovenia, making him unavailable until after Sept. 9.
SLU was 6-4-7 last season, finishing second in the country for the number of ties. The Billikens had only one loss in conference but four ties kept them from finishing among the leaders.
“Last year left a bit of a sour taste in our mouth,” senior midfielder Devin Boyce said. “I think we played a little better football than our record would show. You have to win games. We felt last season we didn’t get the job done. We didn’t accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.”
One of those would be to reach the NCAA Tournament, which SLU has missed the last four seasons. Better yet, Kalish has bigger goals. He has sights set on an A-10 championship, top-30 spot in the RPI and a national championship.
That pursuit starts with a group of returning starters – who may or may not start – that includes Frederking, Klein, Boyce, Murana, Ben Huels, Keaton Schieffer, Matteo Kidd and Leo Novaes.
The Billikens scored 27 goals last season, which was better than in recent years but not good enough for Kalish. And not good enough to avoid the seven ties. They return much of that firepower, including the 18 goals scored by Klein (9), Novaes (5) and Boyce (4).
“If you look at the data, whether it’s shots or box entries, we were getting in good spots,” Kalish said. “It was more about our efficiency. So, I feel like there’s more to work on, but also there will hopefully be better personnel in that area of the field.”
In hope of building a strong case for postseason play, SLU will face Notre Dame, No. 12 Virginia on the road and No. 18 Denver at home. However, the Billikens do not play A-10 favorite VCU this season.
“Our strength is our depth and the amount of quality players we have on the team,” Kalish said. “Obviously, we have some marquee guys that will lead us. But the strength is the amount of depth we have at every position.”