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Experienced Bulls look for another run at title

USF coach George Kiefer can take it easy on his freshmen, especially with the experience he’ll put on the field this year.

“The biggest thing I’ll look at right now is leadership and having good older players,” he said. “I ask the question the first day to the freshmen: how does a game get decided if it’s tied at the end? The freshmen don’t even know. They don’t even understand how college soccer works. They don’t know much about the Big East. They don’t know much about RPI and all that, so it’s important to have good older guys. We’re loaded with good older guys.”

The Bulls open their season Wednesday against Florida Gulf Coast, returning eight of 11 starters from last year’s team, including the Big East Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year in senior Jeff Attinella.

As expectations remain high – USF is ranked No. 13 by College Soccer News – Attinella said a big part of this year’s success will rest on the upperclassmen.

“I think for the younger classmen, the (upperclassmen) will set a good example for the way the program is going to be built from here on out. That’s what they’re trying to do this year,” Atinella said. “As seniors, I think it’s our responsibility to set a standard and make sure that standard doesn’t drop.”

The standard has pretty much been set in the last few seasons. Under Kiefer, who’s entering his ninth season as USF head coach, the Bulls have become one of the nation’s most consistent programs.

In the last five seasons, USF hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament, compiling a 65-27-14 record over that span while maintaining a perennial top 20 team.

In 2008, the Bulls won their first Big East championship, and in 2009, they were ranked in the top five
in the preseason, only to finish with a mark of 14-4-3 and a loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Many expect USF to contend for a Big East title once again, and Kiefer has plenty of confidence he can turn to his veterans.

“The nicest part about this team is really the returning guys,” Kiefer said. “You look at the amount of guys who’ve been here and been in big games – it’s nice.

“The senior class is very strong. You’re talking about six guys in the senior class that will play, some of them have started every game for four years. Others have been key, key guys for us.”

Junior midfielders Sebastien Thuriere and Bernardo Anor, senior defender Javed Mohammed and sophomore forward Hasani Sinclair – USF’s top four point scorers last season – return, along with senior defender Andre Mittoo, who’s played in all but one game in three years at USF.

Attinella has arguably been the Big East’s best keeper the past two seasons while Anor, who joins Mohammed and Attinella on the Big East’s preseason all-conference team, said he’s taking a leadership role this year.

“I like to be the role model, when it comes to doing the right thing and little details,” he said. “I think I consider myself a leader, along with Jeff (Attinella) and the other seniors. We’re getting along pretty well.”

Anor said last year’s early exit in the Big East and NCAA tournaments was tough, and that the team, ranked in the top 10 for much of the year, underachieved.

“We’re expecting to do a lot better than last year,” said Anor, who scored 6 goals in 17 games after missing nearly the entire 2008 season with a torn ACL. “We’re just focusing on persistence right now – little by little. When we approach the games, then we focus on the games.”

The Bulls must replace a few key pieces from last year, including forward Zak Boggs, who is now a member of Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, and midfielders Francisco Aristeguieta and Jorge Mora, but Kiefer said he likes the mix of experience and talented youth on this year’s club.

“We’re in good shape for this year, but we’ve also brought in guys that can develop and become very, very good so that the program keeps rolling,” he said.