Building on last year’s success will be the challenge for AIS as it enters the ’13 campaign.
The Eagles enjoyed their best season in the program’s history. They compiled a 15-5-2 record and advanced to the Class A state finals, where they lost to Aquinas 3-2.
Atlanta International coach Phil Leopold said his team’s achievement galvanized the entire school.
“As far as the success we had last year, what it really did is rally the community, the entire school community, maybe at a level we never enjoyed before,” Leopold said. “We had, obviously, not only the families of our players [coming to the games], we had the whole school — teachers, faculty, people that had nothing to do with the athletic department and don’t really know that much about the sports program at AIS. We packed the house. It was a fantastic experience for the players and for the whole school.”
With last year’s unprecedented success comes higher expectations for Atlanta International, but Leopold said his team is ready to meet that challenge.
“The bar has always been set high and so maybe for this year, there is the message that there is no reason that we shouldn’t be playing in games like this every year,” Leopold said. “But, it also, for these players who played on the team last year, they now know how much work it is. They know how much work it takes and so, hopefully, those lessons carry over this year and we can challenge ourselves to work that hard as a habit.”
AIS will have several holes to fill after losing eight seniors — including seven regular starters — from last year’s state runner-up team.
“We start over every year,” Leopold said. “Every high school team starts over every year. But, we have more jobs to fill this year than is probably typical.”
The Eagles opened their regular-season schedule with a 1-0 loss to Class AAA team Blessed Trinity Feb. 12 after beating Meadowcreek 1-0 in a preseason scrimmage Feb. 8.
“Obviously, our [starting lineup] is not yet settled,” Leopold said. “Our style of play is probably not yet evident and we’ve got tactical weaknesses that are probably normal for this point of the year. The positive is, we know what we need to do. We know how hard we have to work to get where we need to be. But, we’re not there yet.”
Senior defender Dullah Hassan will step to the forefront this season for AIS as the team captain.
“We need him to lead the team and he’s got a lot of responsibility on his shoulders,” Leopold said.
Also taking on a bigger role is junior goalkeeper Lucas Fischer, who replaces last year’s starter Reilly Proctor — a junior who remains at the school, but left the squad after joining the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, where he plays for the Concorde Fire club team of Atlanta in the organization’s youth league.
“Lucas Fischer has a big, important job coming in as our starting goalkeeper and, obviously, you can’t underestimate the importance of that position,” Leopold said.