Winthrop men’s soccer off to best start since ‘94

bmccormick@heraldonline.comSeptember 30, 2013 

German freshman forward Max Hasenstab's six goals and five assists leads Winthrop's offensive production in an unbeaten start.

TIM COWIE/WINTHROPPHOTOS.COM — Tim Cowie/WinthropPhotos.com

Standing next to each other, Winthrop men’s soccer players Max Hasenstab and Achille Obougou are a study in contrasts. Hasenstab is 5-foot-9 and blonde. Obougou is 6-foot-4, brown-skinned.

But together, the Eagles’ striking pair has meshed wonderfully to the tune of 10 goals combined through the season’s first eight games. As Hasenstab said Monday before a sun-soaked practice, “I think it’s very important that we are two different players.”

Both scored in the Eagles’ 5-1 win over VMI Saturday, which took Rich Posipanko’s team to 7-0-1 on the season, a draw with East Tennessee State the only points dropped thus far. The eight games unbeaten is tied for the best start in program history with the 1994 squad, and is made even more impressive by the fact that all but one of the games have been played away from Eagle Field.

Winthrop, the defending Big South Conference champions, put the unblemished streak on the line Tuesday night at home against College of Charleston.

“It’s never how you start; it’s how you finish,” Posipanko said Monday, his legs kicked up on his office desk. “Obviously you’d like to start fast and end fast. Tuesday night against Charleston is the halfway point for regular season games, and we just need to keep it going.”

Winthrop’s 2012 team is proof that the only time form matters is during the postseason. The Eagles started 2-5-1, before catching fire in October and November, shocking nationally ranked Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference championship, and then knocking off Southern Methodist on penalties in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the first time the program ever advanced in that competition.

Posipanko thought this year’s team was capable of a good start, but thought that 2014 might be the breakout season for Winthrop instead.

“We have a lot of potential,” he said. “I don’t think we’re a good team yet because we’re not finishing teams off.”

Posipanko cited wins against Georgia Southern, Stetson and Saturday’s over VMI as games that the Eagles should have killed off long before the final whistle blew. “We haven’t played a complete 90 minutes yet,” he added.

As an entire unit Winthrop has played well in the season’s first two months, scoring 23 and allowing just six; the two strikers have contributed an end-product to all the hard work in the field’s first two thirds. Hasenstab, named the Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, leads Winthrop with six goals and five assists, and is one of 12 different players to score for the team this fall.

“We were expecting it,” Posipanko said of his German import. “He’s probably exactly what we thought we were getting.”

“Max is so fast and he has a very skillful foot,” said Obougou, who has four goals on the season. “I can fix the center backs and he can play behind me. I can do, like, the dirty job for him.”

Posipanko said Hasenstab has benefited from the extra attention that the imposing Obougou receives from defenders.

“Achille, because of his size, will draw at least a player, sometimes two. Now it’s getting softened up for Max. I think you’re going to see him score quite a few more goals. He’s missed a lot; he could easily have 10, 12 goals at this point. But he’s missed some sitters as well.”

The addition of Hasenstab, and several other instant impact newcomers, has augmented the team’s already strong spine. Senior Adam Brundle and sophomore Magnus Thorsson boss the center of midfield, while sophomores Kyle Kennedy and Jordi Lluch, two of the 15 foreign-born players in the squad, are solid in the heart of the backline.

“Last season we had a very good season, so the team was already built,” Obougou said. Additions like Hasenstab, Brazilian junior college goalie transfer Guilherme Avilar, who earned Big South Defensive Player of the Week honors Monday, and freshman Pietro Bottari from Greenville, S.C., have strengthened the Eagles’ core.

Saturday’s romp over VMI left Winthrop as one of eight teams in the country without a loss so far, joining Maryland-Baltimore County, Dayton, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Washington, Florida Atlantic, Cornell and Notre Dame in that pool. That’s only made the target on the Eagles’ backs bigger, wider, more appealing, especially with the meat of Big South play looming.

“When you’re a defending champion, there is always someone that’s gonna give a little bit more,” Posipanko said. “Everybody in the league is looking at Winthrop and Coastal, and that makes it harder to win.”

Bret McCormick •  329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T

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