Since taking the helm of the men’s soccer team in 2002, George Kiefer has faced many tough opponents. Now, in his fourth season, his team, filled with young players and returning starters, enters the Big East featuring a familiar foe: UConn.
After three seasons ended in the first round of the postseason, Kiefer is anxious to get the 2005 season started and ready to climb the ranks of men’s college soccer once again.Oracle correspondent Sean Ford caught up with Kiefer to see how his summer is going and what preparations he has for the big conference move.
O: What impact will playing as a part of the Big East have on the men’s soccer team?
GK: Well, it’s going to be real helpful to all the USF athletic programs. The NCAA will be looking at teams in the Top 25, which will help us in getting into the tournament.
O: Do you think that the greater media coverage from being a part of the Big East will help your team’s national image, or is it more of a distraction?
GK: Certainly. We look at it as a positive, since joining the Big East has helped our program from a recruiting standpoint as well as a scheduling one.
O: You have a few big games coming up this year (vs. St. John’s on Oct. 15 and Georgetown on Sept. 16). Which teams do you personally view as the biggest challenge?
GK: Since I’ve been here, and definitely before I was here, we’re looking at one of the toughest schedules in the history of the program. There are no breaks in the schedule where we can afford to take it easy — we have to bring our best game every week.
O: You hosted Cincinnati in the last regular-season game this year. Are you looking to avenge the 1-0 loss?
GK: That’s not even on the radar at this point. The first game that we’re concentrating on is the FIU game. FIU is a tough school to play every year — definitely a Top-20 team that we have to focus on.
O: What does an assistant like Ryan Anatol, a guy who played for USF, bring to the table in terms of experience and enthusiasm?
GK: He was a captain at USF, so he’s worn the shirt. He brings us a game play experience that will really help us out. When he played for USF, the (1997) team was a game away from getting to the Final Four, so he is a great addition.
O: What does an All-American like Jordan Seabrook bring to the team?
GK: Jordan is just a big-time player and an all-around athlete. He is also a member of the track team. He’s just really one of those special athletes. Nine starters from last year’s team will be returning, so we hope to continue to grow.
O: Sammy Castellanos sat out last season, but this year he’ll play. Do you think that his time away from the game will hurt his play at all?
GK: It’s always difficult to come back and play at a certain level when you miss all the games that he’s missed. Sammy understands what it’s like to play in the Big East, so we hope he brings a lot of experience to our team.
O: The team was 5-3-1 in conference play last year. Do you think it’s easy to maintain that level, or is there room for growth?
GK: When I first came here, the mission I set out upon was to compete in a national program — it wasn’t so such about the wins. But I do believe that we will improve upon that record this season.
O: Do you get the feeling that the school is getting behind the athletic programs like never before now that you’re in the Big East?
GK: I really get a sense that the school is backing up the teams more than ever. It’s a lot easier to get support when you’re in a conference like the Big East, where teams in it have household names that everyone knows.
O: Football and basketball are obviously the dominant sports here at USF. Are there ever worries that the dedication to those programs can overshadow the growth of others, such as soccer?
GK: The biggest thing that I learned when I was an assistant at UConn was that the sooner the football and basketball programs become more successful, the quicker the other athletic programs benefit from it. Now, coming into the Big East, you’re starting to see the results of becoming more recognizable in the country.