GRANTHAM, Pa. -– Messiah College men's soccer is set to begin its 2012 national championship defense this weekend when it plays host to both Utica College and Medaille College on Shoemaker Field. See below for a look at the Falcons as they enter the 2013 season.

Looking from then to now
Messiah earned a 5-1 decision against Ohio Northern in last year's national final, with a four-goal outburst in the first 18:46 of play propelling the Falcons to their ninth title in program history. The team finished with an undefeated record of 23-0-2.

The Falcons outscored their opponents 14-3 in last year's NCAA tournament run, with decisions against York (regional semifinal 2-2 tie, 4-2 PK) and Loras (national semifinal 1-0 win, overtime) proving to be instant classics. Through the 2012 national final, the Falcons are now 66-12-5 (.825) all-time in the NCAA tournament with 170 goals scored and just 49 goals allowed.

Midfield and forwards
Messiah's Class of 2015 is sure to get a lot of attention from opposing defenses, probably deserved since they accounted for more than 50 percent of the team's goals, assists, points and shots last season. Jeremy Payne led the Falcons with 17 goals and 44 points in 2012 and was named both the NCAA Division III National Player of the Year and Commonwealth Conference Player of the Year. Jack Thompson led the team with 12 assists while adding 10 goals, with Mike Kovach and Brian Ramirez combining for an additional 20 goals and 16 helpers.

Senior Joshua Wood returns for his final season after notching 10 goals and 10 assists in 2012, with four of his goals tying Payne and Thompson for the team lead in game winners. Brothers Sheldon Myer and Bryant Myer — a senior and sophomore, respectively — will also be counted on to give meaningful contribution in the midfield for Messiah.

In addition to that core, a slew of other returners and a talented first-year class may establish Messiah as one of the deepest teams in the nation.

Defense and goalkeeping
The Falcons ranked No. 2 in the nation last year with a 0.35 goals-against average and will return much of their defense for 2013. Seniors Drew Frey and Josh Kremers are both tough-minded and savvy veterans, with center back Carter Robbins coming off a breakout, First Team All-American ( and First Team All-Region (NSCAA) season last year.

Matt Kyne is also prepared for another big year after appearing in all but one game last season as a first-year player.

In goal, Brandon West will look to build on an impressive goals-against average of 0.305 — a mark good for second in the nation. West was also No. 12 in the country with a 0.87 save percentage and should prove to be a formidable last line of defense for the Falcons.

What to watch for
After opening with two games on the "Shoe" this weekend, Messiah travels to face No. 24 Oneonta State on Sept. 6. It will be one of three September games against teams ranked in the NSCAA Preseason Top 25; the Falcons will play host to No. 6 Montclair State on Sept. 21 and will travel to No. 9 York College on Sept. 24.

Messiah's Commonwealth schedule opens with Lebanon Valley on Oct. 5, a must-see game after the Falcons defeated the Dutchmen 1-0 in last year's conference final. Within the Falcons' nine conference matches is also their final league game against rival Elizabethtown College (Oct. 12), since the Blue Jays will be leaving for the Landmark Conference next season.

At the end of the regular season, Messiah will hope to stand ready to defend six consecutive Commonwealth titles and 16-consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.

Coaching staff
Head coach Brad McCarty is in his fifth season as skipper of the Falcons and holds a career record of 88-3-3. He is the first coach in Division III soccer history to win three national titles in his first four years as head coach, and has also led the team to a perfect record of 28-0 in Commonwealth Conference regular-season games.

Aaron Faro returns for his fifth season as McCarty's top assistant, with Sam Woodworth, Trevor Lee, and Jake Berry (GK coach) also on the bench. Every member of the team's staff is a former player for the Falcons.

Aug. 30  
No. 1 Messiah vs. Utica 5 p.m.
No. 2 Loras vs. St. Scholastica 5:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio Northern vs. Franklin (Ind.) 8 p.m.
No. T6 Wheaton (Ill.) vs. Macalester College 7 p.m.
No. 8 Trinity (Texas) vs. Luther 6 p.m.
No. 9 York (Pa.) vs. Lycoming 8 p.m.
No. T10 Scranton vs. Elizabethtown 4 p.m.
No. T10 Dominican (Ill.) vs. Chicago 4:30 p.m.
Aug. 31  
No. 1 Messiah vs. Medaille 4:30 p.m.
No. 2 Loras vs. UW-Superior 4:30 p.m.
No. 5 Ohio Northern vs. Rose-Hulman 5 p.m.
No. T6 Montclair State vs. Emmanuel 2:30 p.m.
No. T6 Wheaton (Ill.) vs. Taylor 7 p.m.
No. T10 Scranton vs. Cabrini 2 p.m.
Sept. 1  
No. T6 Montclair State vs. TBD 5 p.m.
No. 8 Trinity (Texas) vs. Puget Sound 8 p.m.
No. 9 York (Pa.) vs. N.C. Wesleyan 2 p.m.
Sept. 2  
No. T10 Dominican (Ill.) vs. Greenville 1 p.m.