By Kyle Cape-Lindelin, Staff Writer -- email@example.com
After missing out on the NCAA Tournament and losing three senior leaders, Connor Barbaree, Michael Nielson and Ryan Kawulok, Head Coach Bill Irwin knew he would have to add more talent to the men's soccer team to get over the hump.
Irwin and fellow recruiter Assistant Coach Rob Baarts did just that, signing seven new recruits to letters of intent so they can join a team dripping with veteran experience for the 2012 season.
"This is one of the strongest classes we've had in a number of years," Baarts said. "We feel this class possesses both high-level technical and athletic ability. I believe all of these guys will have an immediate impact."
New recruits include center back Jordan Baeza (Aloha, Ore.), defender Matt Escobar (Saratoga, Calif.), midfielder Dustin Munger (Lafayette, Ore.), utility player Hugo Rhoads (West Linn, Ore.), midfielder Colby Trah (Saratoga, Calif.), midfielder Jaime Velasco (Beaverton, Ore.) and center back Connor Wear (Portland, Ore.).
Irwin and Baarts relied on many established connections with recruits as well as searching for the best talent in their own backyard.
"We felt it was much easier on us to look at the talent that's right by us, who already know our name and the surroundings," Baarts said. "It means a lot to these guys that they can play in front of their families and can go home easily."
Escobar, younger brother of UP freshman Michael Escobar, was easily convinced to come play at UP and have the chance to play on the same field as his brother.
"Matt's got great size and is very hard-nosed at the center back position," Baarts said. "Coming from a strong soccer family, we know what we're getting out of Matt and we have strong expectations for him."
Escobar's club teammate, Trah, also was convinced to join the Pilots with the thoughts of continuing to play with his teammate from the same hometown. Trah and Escobar helped lead the De Anza Force to the United States Development Academy Playoffs (USDAP) two years in a row.
With nine seniors on tap for the 2012 season as well as numerous other players with distinguished in-game experience, leadership and veteran presence will not be lacking despite the addition of seven new faces to the squad.
"No player can be comfortable with where they're at on this team," Irwin said. "All players want to play and the talent this new class is bringing will push these older guys even more to keep their spots. It creates a competitive environment which brings out the best in our players."
Some of the great in-state talent coming to Merlo Field in the fall is Baeza, who was named to Oregon's "Starting 11" according to ESPNHS Magazine, which chooses the best 11 players in the state.
Velasco also carries many accolades including leading Westview High School to the Oregon 6A State Championship, where he was named player of the game and awarded the title of 6A State Co-Player of the Year. He was also a candidate for Gatorade's National Player of the Year Award.
"Jaime is a natural goal scorer," Baarts said. "Scoring records at UP will be at risk during his four years here. He has a very competitive nature, which when matched with his talent will bring him success."
Munger also brings a winning streak with him to UP from McMinnville High School, where he shared the title of 6A State Co-Player of the Year honors with Velasco. Munger led McMinnville to state playoff appearances all four years, including three straight league championships while representing a staggering 45-11-7 career high school record.
"Dustin (Munger) is a midfielder who sees the entire field and his ability to find open players is impeccable," Baarts said. "He brings a winning attitude to our program, and he's the type of player that does what it takes to win."
Current players couldn't be more excited to build on last year's late season winning streak by adding fresh faces to the squad.
"It's definitely going to make us and our team better immediately," sophomore Steven Evans said. "These guys want to win and are very talented. I think we have the right mix of upperclassmen and talent to make a big run next season."
Throughout the recruiting search, Irwin and Baarts were picky in scouting who would fit best on their team, keeping in mind that they needed to replace their seniors and add quality individuals to their program.
"We want players with heart and the desire to win, not just talent," Irwin said. "It's important to us that we get the guy who is competing all game long and doesn't take time off on the field. Everyone is going to earn playing time and I want the best, hardest working eleven players starting and playing."
With huge senior and freshman classes as well as game-experienced players, UP is now deep with talented and success-driven players. The Pilots are well on their way to making a name in the WCC next season and show that the six-game winning streak to finish out the 2011 season was no fluke, but a foreshadowing of the future.