The Francis Marion University men's soccer team will open its 2017 campaign with a pair of matches in Florida this week, beginning with a 7 p.m. match-up at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Thursday evening (Aug. 31).
The Patriots will conclude their road trip with a Saturday night contest at Florida Tech. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.
FMU head coach John Campbell welcomes back nine letterwinners, including six starters, from last year's squad that finished 8-8-1 and tied for second place during the Peach Belt Conference regular season.
The Patriots were picked to finish third in the 2017 Peach Belt coaches' preseason poll.
"I have been really pleased with our pre-season," Campbell said. "The best part of camp has been the attitude of the squad, with everyone being positive and buying into what we are doing. The team chemistry has been excellent from the beginning."
"We want healthy competition at every position and we have that this year. This may be one of the deepest squads, if not the deepest, I have had here at Francis Marion.
"In addition to team depth, another strength will be our ball possession. We do want to create a few more chances than we did last year and allow a few less goals than in 2016."
Leading the returnees is the reigning PBC Player of the Year, junior forward Levin Sandmann. He was also a second-team All-Conference pick as a freshman.
Last year, Sandmann tied for the conference lead in goals scored (13) and match-winning scores (6), while leading the PBC in shots (84) and total points (33), and tying for fifth in assists with seven. He was responsible for all six match-winners as the Patriots posted a 6-3 PBC mark, and he was on the field for 1,505 of a possible 1,583 minutes last season.
Campbell said, "We are looking for Levin to provide leadership this year, and to set the tone for the squad, especially with us having so many new faces. On the pitch, we want to get him off to a good start at the opening whistle of the season."
Drakenhammar was the second-leading scorer for the Patriots in 2017 with eight goals and four assists. Williams helped anchor a backline that surrendered only 15 goals in nine conference matches.
This year's Patriot squad includes 10 freshmen among its 17 newcomers. Included among these newcomers are a trio that will make up the goalkeeping corps: junior Blaize McGinnis (Ninety Six, SC) and freshmen Washington Bgoni (Wellington, New Zealand) and Raul Guillamon Bejar (Palau-solita i Plegamans, Spain). McGinnis is a transfer from USC Salkehatchie.
"The goalkeeping position was one of those spots that we wanted to improve at. The pre-season has been a good battle with the starting spot still wide open. Each of the three are good shot stoppers and all have played well. Approaching the season opener, we have still not decided on a starter."
Francis Marion's home opener will occur on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. on Hartzler Field against Barton College. Altogether, the squad's 16-match schedule will feature seven home matches. The PBC Tournament will begin on Oct. 31, with the semifinals on Nov. 3 and the finals set for Nov. 5.
"We open with a pair of really tough road matches. This trip could set the tone for the year. It will give us a chance to see where we stand, and what areas we may need to work on."
The Patriots are 16-23-3 in season openers, including an 11-15-3 mark when opening on the road. Under Campbell, FMU is 3-1-1 in season openers.
In Campbell's five seasons at the helm of the Patriots, FMU has registered 46 wins and made three appearances in the semifinals of the PBC Tournament.