add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Introducing Men's Soccer Part II: The Forwards - BANG.
Photo courtesy of BC Men's Soccer / Twitter

Introducing Men's Soccer Part II: The Forwards

When you think of a forward, you probably think confidence bordering on arrogance. Defense wins championships, but the forwards still have to score that game-winning goal. But Stefan Sigurdarson, leading goal-scorer for Boston College men’s soccer this season, challenges that assumption. Sitting in Addie's, the junior stoically broke down the season with a tactical eye and an understated sense of humor.

The Icelandic forward has “always been a forward. I just stayed up close to the goal I was supposed to score in. I think that’s how I became a forward. I didn’t go too much on defense so I was just put as the front guy.” Being “a lot taller than everyone else” helped, of course.

The other thing that helped, although Sigurdarson is careful not to call it the best advice he ever received, is the tough criticism his national team coach gave him at the tender age of 13. ‘“You’re not good enough.’” Sigurdarson added the context in the same tone of voice as if he’s reporting on the weather. “At that time, I was tall, I was a bit lanky—scrawny kid—and he said, ‘you’re too much of a p-----.’ I had to grow up, I had to change. I had to become better. The focus was a lot more than it had previously been.”

That focus is evident in everything the forward does, including watching soccer. Growing up, the striker favored Fernando Torres, mimicking him in everything from hairstyle to jersey choice. His departure to Chelsea was “a bit of a heartbreak,” but with a grin-and-bear-it attitude, Sigurdarson soldiered on. “I was sort of just looking at strikers who I could [imitate]. Players who were very tall and very agile at the same time, who can move—that’s a big part of learning from them.” This unofficial way of watching tape gives an insight into how dedicated Sigurdarson is to improving aspects of his game. 

This dedication is evident in the junior’s approach to his least favorite aspects of soccer. His least favorite drill is tactics, even though the forward acknowledged that they’re “super important.” Despite his insistence that other drills are more fun, Sigurdarson utilizes these tactical training sessions in-game. After the Battle of Comm Ave against rival Boston University, Sigurdarson gave an interview walking through the tactical decisions he made to not go down in the penalty box and to shoot near-post instead of far based on the goalie’s positioning. All those decisions were made in the span of less than a second. For a guy who doesn’t enjoy tactics, he’s good at them.

The role of a forward appears relatively easy to describe. “In simple terms, as a striker, my role is to create goals, either score them or assist. Help the team win by creating goals.” And then Sigurdarson, without prompting, added in an extra responsibility: “Obviously then, we have to defend from the front—we’re the first line of defense.”

Throughout the years, clinically, Sigurdarson has improved. But the most notable change has occurred in temperament—especially between this year and last year’s shortened season. Everyone struggled, but for the junior, the mental side of the game has proved the toughest. “Mental health is obviously very difficult—to try and find a balance with everything. In the spring, I was…there were some things off for me, which is why obviously I went more for the refs. A little bit this season as well, similar stuff. That’s stuff that obviously I can control but it’s more difficult.”

The coaching staff is trying to implement that change as well, attempting to stop players from going after the referees and instead focusing on the game. The coaches have been trying to teach players that “Going for the refs doesn’t help us so what’s the point?” Sigurdarson summarized, before wryly commenting that “the fans can do it for us.”

Off the field, Sigurdarson views his role as one of leadership, helping younger players achieve their potential. “Some players come in and they’re one hundred percent ready, others need a little bit of guidance and support, others need a little criticism to get them there like I received.”

Leadership jobs become more complicated with all the injuries dealt with by the Eagles over the course of the season. “It’s hard because, with the injuries, I tend to put more pressure on myself.” With a full team, everyone knows their role and how they are expected to contribute to the team. As players get injured, roles get reassigned and the pressure increases as individuals are expected to do more in the face of fewer options.

Two of the new guys who stepped into big roles were Aidan Farwell and Drew Serafino. In comparison to Sigurdarson’s quiet humor, freshman utility players Serafino and Farwell were boisterous, finishing each other’s sentences and speaking in a language all their own. Serafino fielded questions like he had been a press secretary in another life, while Farwell waited patiently to fill in the gaps, fact-checking Serafino and reminding him of details he had forgotten in his quest to get to the punchline.

When asked why the two of them picked Boston College, Farwell answered “because Drew was here.” Through a laugh, Serafino responded in kind, “because Aidan was here.” The two chuckled for another moment, before Serafino added on, “We always wanted to play together.” Farwell continued, “We’ve got a bunch of local guys in our class—we kind of all knew each other coming in, knew of each other at least. I was looking forward to playing with all of them.” Serafino added that being close to home, and his four baby siblings made BC his choice.

Becoming utility players deployed all over the field wasn’t necessarily their choice, however. Those injuries that forced Sigurdarson and other players to put more pressure on themselves also forced players into different positions and the team into different formations. The compressed college season made these changes happen at a faster pace, with little to no time to implement between games.

Farwell noted, “It just completely changed the way that we were trying to play from the beginning of the year. We started in a 3-4-3, and then an injury changed us to a 3-5-2. Then, all of a sudden, we went to a 4-4-2. That’s like three different formations.” He then added that it’s difficult to build chemistry and compete at a high level with these constant changes. 

“I would agree with the injuries point,” Serafino started, “It happened so early and it happened so back to back. A lot of people had to come in that we're still learning the role or the formation—[we were] out of position. That affected it because it all happened so rapidly at the start of the season.”

“I played a lot of places this year,” Serafino acknowledged, grinning as he rapid-fire listed the positions he had played, “I played left-back, right back, left mid, right mid, center mid, both strikers…everywhere but center back and goalie.” And he was adamant in declaring, “I want to play center back and goalie. I told the coaches that. I was like ‘I want a chance to play everywhere’…that’s my goal.  I’m a player that you can put anywhere and I’ll just get my job down, I’ll work hard and do whatever it takes to win.”

Farwell took a minute to answer, thinking through the positions he wanted to talk about, settling for talking about just one. “Left-wing…as long as you back in defensively, you’re just kinda free to stay out wide, come outside as a winger.”

Serafino chimed in that Farwell “just happens to be good at everything,” which prompted Farwell’s immediate, quiet denial of saying that. Serafino quickly responded that it was OK, since he said it and not Farwell. This back-and-forth interaction characterized the interview, with their easy friendship and mutual respect on full display. 

Sigurdarson added a tactical, focused dimension to the forward analysis in his interview. His fellow forwards are “a lot quicker than [him]. A lot of the players are smaller in size, but they’re quicker and very technical. It’s a good contrast. When you play a 4-4-2, you want one small, quick striker and one big, tall striker, and we sort of find that with the other strikers. They have stuff that I don’t have and I have stuff that they don’t have. We’re just trying to puzzle the pieces together and complement each other the best we can.”

In a season where momentum proved elusive, those pieces came together only 15 times in 18 games, with only five Eagles recording goals. Both Serafino and Farwell scored their first collegiate goals this season—Serafino in a 2-1 win over Northeastern and Farwell a game later in a 1-2 loss to Virginia.

Serafino jumped in to say, “I was more excited for his first goal than mine. I was so happy for him. It’s just fun to do it with your friends.” The two spoke over each other for a moment, before Farwell let Serafino continue. “Farwell and I have grown a bond since we’ve been here. We’ve gotten really close.” Farwell jumped in, “We’ve talked about what we’re going to do…how excited we’d be once we scored so once it finally happens…it’s a good feeling.”

Thank you to Stefan Sigurdarson, Aidan Farwell, and Drew Serafino for taking the time to be interviewed!