LSUA begins its eight-game conference slate on Feb. 27 with a trip up the highway to LSU-Shreveport at 1:30 p.m. Following the road game at LSUS, the Generals will have four of the next six at Generals Field. The first conference contest at home is March 4 against Texas A&M-Texarkana.
ALEXANDRIA–A strong defense leads the LSUA men’s soccer team into action, as it tries to win the regular season championship and earn an NAIA Tournament berth for the first time since 2018.
Two-time all-conference goalkeeper Alvaro Garcia is the last line of the defense for the Generals. Last season, he was named All-Conference honorable mention, after making the first team in 2018. He also was named to the RRAC All-Tournament team in 2018 and 2019 and has been named the RRAC Defensive Player of the Week on six occasions.
The senior from Madrid, Spain, started all 20 games for the Generals last season, allowed just 15 goals on the season and registered a goals against average of 0.73. His 71 saves and nine shutouts last year both rank No. 1 in school history. Garcia’s 126 career saves is second in school history, but is just 22 behind Thomas Fuller, who played at LSUA from 2015-18.
He is excited to finally begin his senior season after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to begin seven months after originally scheduled.
“Although I still can’t believe (this is my last year), I look at the calendar five times a day to see how much is left,” Garcia said.
The LSUA men begin its season Wednesday when it welcomes Mobile to Generals Field for a 3 p.m. game time against the Rams. It is the beginning of a home-heavy beginning for the Generals, as four of the first five take place in Alexandria.
Brian Okpala moves on from the back line, but the Generals still return a strong defense. LSUA returns Trystan St. Louis and Keelin Foley, who combined for 22 starts in 2019. St. Louis and Foley each recorded three points on the season, and St. Louis’ three assists were tied for third on the team.
“It’s good to keep players who have been here for more years, as they add experience to the team,” Garcia said. “When you are looking for a defense and a goalkeeper to play with, these players are often decided by the chemistry they have between them.
“We are working on our chemistry day by day, seeing which pieces fit better, and an important piece is communication. We and the defenders see the entire field, and a vital function is to keep the team in order from behind, so we need a good communication.”
Even as a defender, Okpala was tremendous on offense. He finished third on the team in goals with four tied for third in points with eight.
They are joined as returners on defense by Alvaro Correa and Ethan Joseph, with the latter scoring a game-winning goal last season against Southwest on Oct. 26, 2019.
Joao Leonel is one of the newcomers who could produce this season for the Generals. He comes in from Jefferson College (MO), where he played two seasons. In 2019, he was named First Team All-MCCAC when played in 14 contests, recording one assist and was chosen Second Team All-MCCAC in 2018 as a freshman.
More newcomers include transfers Daminik White and freshman Sithabiso Madonsela and Evan Chighizola
As for the goal scorers, LSUA must replace leading scorer from a season ago, Andrez Joseph, who led the team in goals (6), shots (35), shots on goal (17), tied for the lead in game-winning goals (2) and was second in assists (4).
The team loses 52 of its 84 points scored from last season, but the team has options to make contribution in the goal scoring department.
Even with the scoring lost, LSUA men’s soccer coach Michael Poropat is excited about the potential scoring options this season.
“The attacking depth is as good as we have ever had,” Poropat said. “If I were pick out any strikers to lean on, I’d say Sam (Ogunjobi) and Nangee (Philip) have been leading by example on and off the field.”
The Generals return Ogunjobi, their second-leading scorer in 2019. The senior finished second on the team in goals (5) and finished with 12 total points. Two of his five goals last season came in the 3-1 win at Paul Quinn on Oct. 5, 2019.
Gonzalo Rodriguez Jugo will help Ogunjobi, as he transitions from being a defender to a midfielder this season. The senior from Santiago, Chile, appeared in 19 games, starting 15. He took 16 shots last season, with six being on frame.
Kion Stewart will be one of the newcomers tasked with replacing some of the points departed. The freshman from Brampton, Canadak, is excited to finally get his career started.
“It’s been a goal of mine to play college soccer and I’m excited rather than nervous to play on the field with the team,” Stewart said. “I’m ready and prepared to play every game and because I know I put in the work with the team and put in extra personal hours. I’m confident/prepared rather than nervous.”
In his short time with the Generals so far, Stewart has learned quite a bit from the upperclassmen.
“I’ve learned from players that play my position such as Torres, to use your upper body strength, such as your arms when defending and players such as (junior midfielder Alessandro) Zappavigna to use quick and sharp turns that I can implement in my game.”
Incoming freshman Zac Grima scored 15 goals in his final season at Sunbury Down Secondary College. Fellow freshman Daniel Torrenegra was the top scorer in the Marymount Cup three times and led Marymount Barranquilla to the Marymount Cup championship four times.
CUTLINE: Alvaro Garcia leads a talented defense as the Generals aim to make the NAIA Tournament for the second time in three seasons