When a new crop of student-athletes report to camp for the first time, it can be difficult for them to blend in well with the veterans. That hasn't been the case for the UC Riverside men's soccer team.
"My new teammates are really the ones that are helping us out by the way they have acclimated to the team's chemistry and our game plan so quickly," said senior forward Antonio Lokossou.
The Highlanders come into the season with a 27-man roster that features five freshmen and six transfer students. For the 11 student-athletes, the veterans have already been a great guide.
"Right off the bat, the chemistry has been there. On the field, we are getting to know each other one step at a time," freshman forward/midfielder Issa Badawiya said. "I already know some guys’ tendencies."
Badawiya and forward Daniel Castaneda are both local Riverside products. Badawiya has creative and technical ability to add to UCR's attack, and Castaneda will also be a goal-scoring threat. Freshman defender Kameron Bolden has tremendous athleticism and technical foundation, while freshman defender Freymar Omarrson, from Gardabae, Iceland, is a product of great coaching.
Freshman midfielder Carlos Osorio will help connect the lines in the team's midfield.
"The competition is greater than it has been in past years," head coach Tim Cupello said. "I don't think there is a single guy that can't play at this level."
Midfielder Ronaldo Lomeli, a junior transfer from San Jose State, is a tremendous worker who has the ability to create his own shot.
The Highlanders also have an entirely new set of goalkeepers who are all transfers. Sophomore Leonardo Targia, originally from Milan, brings a high pedigree, while junior Angel Noriega has great shot-stopping ability and distribution. Meanwhile, junior Edwyn Gutierrez has experience with the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA academies.
Defenders Jose Ponce and Uros Ilic round out the list of transfers. Ponce, a junior, is a technical and competitive player, who is also versatile. Ilic, a junior originally from Belgrade, Serbia, was the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Player of the Year in 2017.
"Just like any other year, we have a really good incoming group. I don't think any of them are really off the pace. I don't look at any of them and think that they will need a few years to develop,” Cupello said. "A few may emerge as early starters and contributors, but we also have a great group of returners, so there will be healthy competition." UCR’s home opener against UNLV takes place on Sept. 14, and the team opens up Big West Conference play in early October.