William and Mary men's soccer returns 9 starters including top scorers

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

The Colonial Athletic Association men's preseason soccer poll has not been released but when it is, William and Mary should be among the top teams with a load of talented players returning including Antonio Bustamante, one of 31 men's players around the country on the watch list for the most prestigious individual award in the sport.

Bustamante is one of nine starters back for the Tribe, which finished 12-7-2 last season and reached the CAA tournament final before falling to Delaware.

With so many top players back, the Tribe will be expected to at least contend to return to the championship game, and claim a league title for the first time since 2010.

William and Mary's lone scrimmage is Saturday against Navy before the Tribe opens the season Aug. 25 at Michigan.

"Our focus is on really trying to take advantage of the fact that we have experience," said 13th-year William and Mary head coach Chris Norris, "we have quality, we have depth, and just trying to see where that can take us if we work hard enough."

Five things to watch

Bustamante: The junior midfielder was named to the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy Watch List earlier this month after picking up All-CAA First Team and National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Midwest Region First Team honors last season.

"Since we began recruiting him, we have had that sort of expectation for what he's capable of," Norris said. "Fortunately he has the drive and determination, the desire to get better, to capitalize on his ability. He has much higher goals than being recognized as just an all-conference or all-region player. So he continues to work hard towards those goals."

Bustamante, who spends his offseason with D.C. United's Under-23 team, scored a team-best 10 goals last season to go along with five assists for the Tribe.

The Northern Virginia native tallied his first hat trick, plus an assist, against Northeastern last year on his way to landing CAA Player of the Week distinction.

"I'm grateful for it but all credit doesn't come to me," Bustamante said. "It came from my teammates setting me up and putting away chances. I think the good thing about our team is we make everyone else look good. I don't think it really changes anything for me. My expectations are the same for this season."

Attack: Each player that earned All-CAA honors last season for the Tribe is back including junior Ryder Bell, who scored nine goals and added four assists in 2016.

The attacking core also includes senior William Eskay, who scored five goals last season with a team-best six assists, and versatile sophomore Reeves Trott, an All-CAA Rookie selection last season along with defender Tanner Shane.

Defense: Shane, senior Remy Frost and junior outside back Marcel Berry are the locks defensively, where William and Mary was inexperienced last season.

That's no longer the case and returning starting goalkeeper Phil Breno, a former UMBC transfer, and reigning team MVP and defensive midfielder Riley Spain will bolster the overall defensive efforts.

Depth: Norris believes he has more of it since the 2010 squad.

Defenders Hristo Bustamante and Geoffrey Young, midfielder/defender Ricardo Acosta, and defender Alfonso Speed are each examples of players that have earned significant minutes and starts in the past that will compete for more time on the field this season.

CAA: With the departures of Delaware's Guillermo Delgado and Hofstra's Joe Holland, a shift in the balance of power in the league may be in order.

Hofstra finished atop the regular season league standings before Delaware topped the Tribe in the tourney final.

"We had a fantastic ending to the season although it didn't quite end as we wanted it to," Breno said. "We're returning a lot of guys that played on that field. So we all kind of know what we want out of this season."

"We all know that it takes a lot of things going right to have that kind of season, to compete for championships," Norris said. "We're just trying to control what we can control right now, which is staying healthy, working hard and trying to buy into the concept of doing what's best for the team."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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