Having been out of action for over 400 days, the Binghamton men’s soccer team plans to make its long awaited return this weekend in America East (AE) competition. The Bearcats last season ended in the first round of AE playoffs with a 2-0 loss to Hartford, and they hope to start off on the right foot after an extended preseason before Friday’s match.

“Four-week preseason, unheard of in college soccer,” said Binghamton head coach Paul Marco. “But we’ve used it well. The guys did a good job. I’m grateful we’ve had that long of a time.”

Binghamton finished its 2019 season with a 6-9-3 record, going 3-4-0 in conference play. On the offensive end, the Bearcats managed the fourth-best shot-on-goal total in the conference, as well as the third-best conversion rate of those shots into goals. Of their 100 shots on target, 19 were claimed by senior midfielder Noah Luescher.

“You want to be the best version of yourselves, you want to be top scorers,” Luescher said. “You want to be the best player you can be and right now I think I’m in a very good place.”

Luescher’s five goals earned him his spot as Binghamton’s top scorer in 2019. He was named AE Rookie of the Year as a freshman and started all 17 games as a sophomore. Luescher reflected on his time off the field heading into his last year with the Bearcats.

“It’s been tough, it’s been difficult,” Luescher said. “But in the face of adversity, you grow the most as people, you learn the most.”

Returning alongside the midfielder is sophomore defender Oliver Svalander, who contributed 21 shots on goal last season despite playing on defense. He was named in the AE all-rookie team and picked up three goals for the Bearcats.

“We haven’t changed a lot of faces, so complacency could be something that the team battles,” Marco said. “Each year we try to set a very high standard, based on building our potential and closing our performance gaps.”

Sitting at the capstone of Binghamton’s defense are returning redshirt sophomore goalkeeper P.J. Parker and sophomore goalkeeper Mats Roorda. The pair split time in net, with Parker playing 10 games and Roorda playing 12. Parker earned the fourth-highest save percentage in the AE at 76.7 percent and Roorda recorded 45 total saves in 2019.

“Goalkeeping is a very strong position for us,” Marco said. “[Roorda] and [Parker] each push each other in certain ways during training and are each capable of starting for us. We are in a good place with both of them.”

Along with the Bearcats’ returning faces, four new freshmen have entered the mix. Marco seemed pleased with the new talent, particularly in midfield.

“We have loads of guys in the midfield,” Marco said. “Some of our new players have been very good so far and the growth of the midfield since training started has been good.”

Despite returning most of their starting roster, the Bearcats have still faced adversity by being separated due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Telling them to stay apart has been a challenge, not only for the coaching staff, but for the players themselves,” Marco said. “We’ve been able to connect in ways we didn’t really know prior to [COVID-19].”

Looking ahead into the Bearcats’ schedule this season, the team is only slated to play against four other AE opponents. Two of them, Hartford and Albany, finished third and fourth respectively in the conference in 2019 and Binghamton will play two matches against both. However, notably absent from the Bearcats’ schedule are powerhouse teams Vermont and UNH. Due to the change in scheduling for the adjusted season, Binghamton will not face either of the top two schools prior to the playoffs.

The Bearcats placed last in the AE preseason poll, earning only 11 votes. Despite their low ranking, Marco remains optimistic about the state of the team heading into the season.

“The goals are still to get to the playoffs as best we can, take every session as they come, make the best of every day,” Marco said.

Binghamton will look to start its season off strong against UAlbany on Friday, Feb. 26. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at the Bearcats Sports Complex in Vestal, New York.