There are a couple of key first-timers associated with FIU soccer this season.
On the men’s team, there’s a new head coach in Scott Calabrese.
On the women’s side, there’s a new goalkeeper — a 19-year-old freshman who just arrived from Nis, Serbia.
Here’s a closer look:
FIU MEN’S SOCCER
Calabrese, 42, takes over a 6-10-1 team that won just two home matches last season and was 2-6-1 in Conference USA.
The Panthers were picked to finish seventh this year in the league, which last season placed three teams in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a top-five soccer league in the nation in terms of RPI,” said Calabrese, who came to FIU after six years running the East Tennessee State program.
Calabrese said he inherited a young team — just three or four seniors figure to start this season — with an especially strong sophomore class.
Overall, he said, FIU has an attacking mind-set and players who can “possess the ball and create chances.”
What he needs to do, he said, is find more defensive-minded players who have a “blue-collar mentality.”
Calabrese said his players have a strong desire to win and thus have accepted his challenge to be more responsible defensively.
“The best teams in the world — if you look at Barcelona and the way they press — work hard without the ball,” he said.
Calabrese really likes the local talent — 14 of the 29 players on his roster are from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
But when asked to name his top players, three of the first four he mentioned were Germans — junior goalkeeper Robin Spiegel, sophomore defender Marvin Hezel and senior forward Quentin Albrecht.
Spiegel started every game as a freshman and was the goalie for last year’s season opener, a 2-1 loss at Loyola Marymount. He lost his job after that as FIU’s previous coaching staff went with two other players who are no longer on the roster.
Hezel made the league’s all-freshman team last season, and Albrecht, who has 21 goals the past three years, has made second-team all-conference two seasons in a row.
FIU WOMEN’S SOCCER
Junior defender Nikki Rios of St. Thomas Aquinas and senior forward Chelsea Leiva of Royal Palm Beach are both back after missing last season due to ACL injuries.
Rios made second-team All-Sun Belt Conference in 2012. Leiva made first-team All-Sun Belt that year, leading her team in points (11 goals, 7 assists).
Ordinarily, their returns would be the best stories on the team. But it’s hard to top what Nevena Stojakovic, 19, has done.
The 5-9 freshman arrived from Serbia and hit the FIU practice field for the first time on Aug. 17. Three days later, she was in the starting lineup, making three saves in a 2-0 loss to Arizona.
After that, Stojakovic, who plans to major in criminal justice or international studies, shut out North Florida 3-0 at Jacksonville to even FIU’s record at 1-1.
Thomas Chestnutt, FIU’s eighth-year coach, has been impressed with Stojakovic, who was Serbia’s national goalie for the Under-17 and Under-19 teams.
“It’s been a whirlwind [arrival] for her,” Chestnutt said. “But she’s good — she has a lot of experience internationally.”