Picked seventh in the America East preseason coaches’ poll, the Binghamton men’s soccer team expects nothing less than to shock this year’s competition. And after opening their season with a 2-1 victory over Bucknell on Friday, the Bearcats (1-0) are off to a strong start.
The team may have finished with a meager 3-11-5 mark last season, but that was after its roster was riddled with injuries. This time around, the Bearcats not only believe they’re playing at a higher level than they were at this point last season, but also that they have the necessary components to outperform their rivals.
Despite losing three valuable players in defender Robbie Hughes, midfielder Marts Reid-Warden and midfielder Ben Nicholson to graduation, the Bearcats see a silver lining in retaining their key forward: Tommy Moon.
Moon started the first five games of 2013, putting six shots on goal and scoring the game-winner against American on Sept. 6, before a broken leg ended his campaign. The graduate student was granted a medical redshirt season so that he could join the Bearcats again this fall, and he’s taking full advantage of his opportunity.
“It was hard to miss that much time,” Moon said. “A lot of rest, a lot of recovery – hard recovery – so just to be back playing with the guys is amazing.”
“Having Tommy Moon back is terrific for us. I’d say it’s huge, but he is a little guy,” head coach Paul Marco joked. “His fitness is outstanding. I truly cannot believe how fit he is right now at this stage of the season.”
Rounding out Binghamton’s offensive prowess is last year’s top goal-scorer, senior forward Steve Celeste. Celeste rose to the occasion after Moon’s abrupt departure, leading the team with 27 shots throughout last season. He found the back of the net four times, including the deciding goal against Buffalo on Sept. 13.
Second to Celeste in scoring was Nicholson. The graduated midfielder scored three goals and led the team with five assists, serving a crucial role in creating opportunities for Binghamton. In addition to Celeste and Moon, who typically put on the finishing touches, the team will need help in filling out its offensive force.
“It definitely helps to have Tommy Moon back,” Celeste said. “He is a huge piece of that puzzle. But it is going to take a couple of more guys to bring it to the table.”
Last Friday, the team saw two such players rise to the occasion. Junior midfielder Luca Bottoni and sophomore back Charlie Novoth each scored their first collegiate goals against Bucknell (0-1). Together, the two contributed five of Binghamton’s seven shots through the contest.
Binghamton will also need additional help on defense now that Hughes, who was perhaps the back line’s front man last year, is gone. Part of that will come from senior defender Jamie Forbes, who will be retaking the field in 2014. Forbes played 12 of 19 games last year – injury precluded him from playing a full season.
Though Binghamton received such a low preseason ranking, a few players and coaches call upon last season’s relative success against UMBC and Hartford, the top two programs in the conference, as evidence of their winning potential.
“Last year against the top two teams, UMBC and Hartford, we tied both during the regular season, and we lost at Hartford in overtime during the playoffs. I think we are very competitive and we will be there again this year,” Marco said.
Perhaps Binghamton’s most noteworthy triumph last year, a scoreless tie against seventh-ranked UMBC, showcased the resilience of Binghamton’s defense. The nationally ranked Retrievers held a 16-5 shot advantage against the Bearcats, but then-sophomore Stefano Frantellizzi’s five saves preserved BU’s shutout.
During the preseason, Marco announced that Frantellizzi will retain his starter status. But he also mentioned that sophomore Robert Moewes, who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, has proved himself a formidable challenger. Though Frantellizzi served as BU’s exclusive keeper in 2013, during which time he recorded six shutouts, Moewes played the full 90 minutes last Friday. The German transfer student collected five saves and nearly recorded a shutout before Bucknell squeezed a goal in during the last second of the game.
“Even though Stef is a two-year returning starter, Robert has been outstanding in training, and what an outstanding competitive spirit the two of them have,” Marco said of the two keepers.
With six new recruits and so far an injury-free squad, the team is confident it will dismantle expectations. Until then, it will play the underdog role to its advantage.
“Coming onto the field with teams underestimating us, I think we are going to surprise a lot of people this year,” Forbes said. “And just comparing last preseason to this one, I think we are miles ahead of where we were when we played Bucknell for our preseason opener last year.”
“The challenge for us will be to prepare for every opponent, and to meet and exceed the competitive spirit within the game and let the beauty of the game get the job done,” Marco said.
Binghamton hosted Marist in its home opener on Monday at 5 p.m. The game was still in progress during production. Check bupipedream.com for our game recap.