The Omaha men’s soccer team had their 2015 campaign end in heartbreak of the foot of Oral Roberts’ Alex White. White roped a shot through a crowd in front of the net, right past Maverick Josh Christenson, in a goal to score the game-winner in double-overtime during Summit League conference tournament semifinals. It was Omaha’s seventh game of the season that took extra minutes to decide, and the Mavericks third overtime loss of the year.
To add to the difficult end of the season, the Mavericks had to say goodbye to six seniors that played big roles in their scheme, including Christenson and the Seattle Sounders 2016 third-round pick, Emir Alihodzic. Also going to be missed this season are: 2015-16 UNO Male Athlete of the Year and former co-captain Felipe da Silva, Logan Mendez, Kevin Correa, Andres Irvin, Jesus Perez and Parker Victor.
Despite the loss of key components, head coach Jason Mims, entering his sixth season, is eager to get the season started, and excited for fans to see the 2016 squad, that will feature newcomers filling roles, as well as several players stepping up to fill voids left by departing seniors.
“Our team is going to be different this year. We lost seven pretty darn good seniors,” Mims said. He also talked about what a difference the play of MLS draft pick Emir Alihodzic made a year ago.
“The way he played in the midfield, it kind of suited our team,” Mims said. “His range of passing is incredible, and that’s one of his strengths even at the pro level now, coaches have commented on.”
Coach Mims went on to say that Alihodzic’s passes released pressure allowing the Mavericks to attack more from the wings and get clean crosses where senior Mark Moulton had a lot of success last year.
“We don’t have him this year, and we don’t have a player like him this year. It doesn’t mean we’ll be worse because of it, but our team’s going to be different,” Mims said.
Four seniors will lead the Maverick squad this season: forward Mark Moulton, defender Jacob McCain, forward Fazlo Alihodzic, and mid-fielder Lalo Gamboa. Each were in starting roles last year along with defender/midfielder Michael Jaime (Jr.), defender/midfielder Denzel Woods (So.) and goalkeeper Joseph Ghitis (RSJr.) who split time in net last year with Christenson. Forwards Noor Hamadi (So.) and Cole Nelson (So.) will also see plenty of time on the pitch this season along with defender/midfielder Jacob Weiler (RSJr.) according to Mims.
The Mavericks will add nine new members this year. Freshmen forwards Elvir Ibisevic and Fred Frimpong, junior transfers Emmanuel Hamzat and Ray Barajas, as well as freshmen defenders Joey McCain, Seth Rinderknecht, freshmen mid-fielder Aladeen Younes and freshmen goalkeepers Ugo Tritz and Jose Camberos. Also returning for the 2016 season is junior Xavier Gomez who was a two-year starter his freshman and sophomore seasons for Omaha.
Mims stressed the small details that need to be fixed in order for Omaha to become a consistent team and that was their style of play this season. And the Mavericks need to finish out close games down the stretch.
“Soccer is played in 90 minutes. If we would have made the games 80 minutes long I think we would have had one loss out of twenty games played last year,” Mims said. “We got to close out games, and I think that comes with experience, that comes with being in those situations before, but that is one factor we are working to improve on this year.”
Defender Jacob McCain said the team’s cohesion as one unit is also one thing fans might notice this fall as well. “I think that will be a big improvement that you’ll see from last year is that will be more of a team that plays together,” McCain said.
The Mavericks have shown they are ready for the big time of college soccer with big program wins against ranked Washington in an exhibition game last season at Omaha South and a home win against ranked UC Irvine during the regular season. But Mims still believes there are minor things that should be improved in order for the Mavs to jump to the elite level in 2016.
“It’s the little things, the small details now, that will get us to the next step,” Mims said. “I think what we’ve done is pretty good, pretty remarkable, but now it’s like ok, there’s a lot of college teams that are good, but what separates a team from the ones that are good to the ones that are consistently in the top 25, and consistently getting in the NCAA tournament are the small details.”