Steve Simmons knows his team wasn’t far from the NCAA men’s soccer tournament the past two seasons.
Oregon State’s current seniors were part of the 2014 team that got there.
Simmons, entering his ninth season as the Beavers’ head coach, says there wasn’t much separating that squad and the last two.
OSU might have finished 7-8-3 overall and 3-5-1 in the Pac-12 last season, but the conference, led by two-time defending national champion Stanford, had strong rankings that made for some difficult decisions for the selection committee.
“Because it really came down to small margins,” Simmons said.
Those small margins that got Oregon State into the tournament in 2014 were similar to the ones that kept the team out the next two seasons.
“So you have to respect that,” said Simmons, who was a member of the Far West Regional Advisory Committee the past three seasons. “So we continue to focus on doing the basics well and making the plays we need to make.”
The Beavers’ early season focus is on building a culture they believe will carry them to success and getting the 12 first-year players ready for what they’ll face.
OSU opens its regular-season schedule Friday night hosting Fairfield at Lorenz Field. It finishes the weekend and the annual Hensor/Zaher Classic on Monday afternoon at home against UNLV. The Pac-12 schedule begins Oct. 1 at Washington after eight nonconference matches.
Picked for fifth in the Pac-12 in the preseason coaches poll, the Beavers return top scorers Jordan Jones and Timmy Mueller, senior forwards who combined for 26 points (including 11 goals) last fall.
OSU has 17 returners in all.
Mueller, the 2014 Pac-12 freshman of the year and a two-time all-conference pick, says the chemistry is at its height in his time at Oregon State because of the large number of veterans.
He believes the team’s depth — with dangerous players throughout the lineup — will take pressure off him and Jones to score.
“We’re not relying on one or two guys,” Mueller said. “The whole team can score. If one person isn’t being consistent the other one will be.”
Jones has been named to the all-conference second team the past two seasons with a combined 15 goals.
Simmons said he’s happy with the depth and that the 14 seniors and juniors are working to help the new players along, which has helped quicken their transition. That’s let to some good position battles.
“They’re awesome. They’re just the way it should be,” the coach said.
Junior forward Don Tchilao and junior midfielder Hassani Dotson played in 18 games in 2016, making 17 starts. Tchilao scored three goals. Senior defender Jalen Markey started all 18 games.
Junior Ryan Vincent, who started the final six games in goal after a teammate went down with an injury, is the only returning keeper with experience.
The Beavers won three of their last four matches of the season, including wins against San Diego State and Washington, both ranked at the time.
“With Ryan we really made some massive strides, so he’s a part of that confidence-building piece,” Simmons said.
The 10 freshmen are credited with pushing the veterans through the opening weeks of practice and thus making them better.
Making an on-field impact will be difficult because there are so many returners, Simmons said, but added he wouldn’t be surprised if one of the newcomers makes some big plays during the second half of the season.
The freshmen are determined to help the team but don’t yet know what to expect.
“So if we drill them like they’ll be playing in the Pac-12, they’ll be ready for it,” Mueller said. “It’s that understanding of how it will go and how the longevity of the season will work.”
The players say experience will play a big part in helping them play with consistency, and hopefully lead to wins. They understand the grind of the season and what it takes to come out on top in Pac-12 play.
“As long as you have confidence I think you’ll be consistent,” Jones said. “That’s what a lot of guys have shown the past few weeks. We’re capable of doing something really special.”