New blood, new beginning

If he’s not careful, USF men’s soccer coach George Kiefer just might supplant Uncle Sam as the best recruiter in the country.

Entering his third year helming the team, Kiefer has officially closed the books on one of the best recruiting classes in the nation for the second consecutive year.

“Last year’s class was ranked 10th in the country,” Kiefer said. “And this year, the class we have is well-balanced, including two of the better kids in the United States and also some kids that have some international experience as well.”

Those two of the better kids in the country are Rodrigo Hidalgo and Christian Jimenez, both members of the Under-20 and Under-18 U.S. National teams as well as Olympic development programs.

Hidalgo has led his teams to Florida state championships. Jimenez’s resume reads about the same as Hidalgo’s, except for the part about Jimenez training under Bruce Arena and the U.S. national squad.

The question is, will it be hard to keep these shooting stars on the bench if any dark clouds begin to form around the already-established starting 11?

“I always say that I’d much rather have experienced players that have gone through an entire college soccer season and know what it’s all about,” Kiefer said. “But, in saying that, these guys are very talented. If a freshman comes in and he deserves to start, he’ll start. Both play positions where we have some older veterans, so it’s going to be tough for them.”

Kiefer also stretched his recruiting tentacles overseas, nabbing midfielder Simon Schoendorf (Germany), defender Mitchum Ford (South Africa), midfielder Lloyd Hughes (South Africa) and keeper Freddy Hall (Bermuda).

Apparently, not only do they play better “football” over there; they grow them older, too.

“Simon is a good central-midfielder and we think he’ll help us a lot there,” Kiefer said. “And the two from South Africa are a little bit older, so they’ll give us more experience as 20-year-old freshmen as opposed to 17- and 18-year-old freshmen. We’re excited to have them all.”

These new recruits mark a revival for a coach and team looking to rebound from a 2003-04 season that started out with high hopes, but was shattered by a streak that saw the Bulls win just three out of nine games and eliminated from the first round of the Conference USA tourney.

“I’m always disappointed when we don’t get to the NCAA tournament,” Kiefer said. “The players were down about it also. The one positive from it is that we won some tough games in order to get to the tournament.”

The ups and downs of last season have started to simmer into something, though, that championships are built on: teamwork.

With two stellar recruiting classes now poised to mix with the already-experienced starters, Kiefer is beginning to realize a special season may be looming on the horizon.

“I’m really happy about how well the team is coming together,” Kiefer said. “Guys are working for each other. It takes time to build a family, and I’m starting to see that happen.”