Defending Region II champion Northeastern A&M’s Golden Norsemen soccer team open the regular season on their home pitch at 5 p.m. Thursday against the Roughriders of Crowder College, from Neosho, Mo.

“It is an advantage for us to open our first two matches at home,” third-year head coach John Parrigon said. “We seem to be a step ahead of where we were last year, both in conditioning and in experience.

“With seven guys coming back from a team that won the regional has helped us go into the preseason with great team chemistry,” Parrigon said. “The guys are working hard and they understand what it takes to get to the playoffs.”

NEO remains at home on Sunday with a 3 p.m. clash against Dodge City, Kan.

Last year the Golden Norsemen won their first regional title with a 1-0-1 record while finishing 6-10-2 on the year. Parrigon has a combined 18-30-4 record in his stint as head coach at NEO.

Sophomore Blake Ward, from Joplin, Mo., and freshman Alex Pegorsch, from Winfield, Kan., will be in goal for the Golden Norse. Ward started in the nets for most of his freshman season.

Four sophomores are among the 10 candidates as midfielders for the Norsemen led by Cole Beckham from Carthage, Mo. Also returning in the middle are veterans Herns Agymang-Duah, Nathan Hamilton, from Springfield, Mo., and Skyler Foster, from Ozark, Mo.

Freshmen prospects at midfield are Austin James, from Sapulpa, Lionard Fombe, from Westmoore, Pedro Campos, Cole Herron, Channler Gannon and Logan Miner, both from Ozark, Mo.

Sophomore Austin Sexton of Union is one of six candidates battling for playing time at the forward positions, along with redshirt sophomore T.J. Deere, from Cleveland.

Also challenging at forwards are freshmen Bryan Mitchell, from Lawton MacArthur; Gabriel Rodriquez and Oscar Flores, both from Grove and Jeron Sinclair, from Camdenton, Mo.

Sophomores Jeff Meeks of Miami and Brazilian Eduardo Filo are among nine players expected to see action as defenders.

Freshmen prospects as defender are Renan Ferreira, from Sau Paulo, Brazil; Nathan Stawowy, from Cedar Park, Texas; Dulton Swearingen, from Sand Springs; Calib Weaver, from Durant; Austin Hill, from Tulsa Washington, Brent Bradford and Aaron Gaskins.