Photo courtesy of BC Men's Soccer / Twitter

Introducing Men's Soccer Part III: The Midfield

Aleksandar Hamon, a Bosnian immigrant to the United States, has an essay about soccer entitled “If God Existed, He’d Be a Solid Midfielder.” The title states what soccer fans instinctively know: good forwards, a compact defense, and an incredible goalie do not matter if the midfielders aren’t solid. And you’d be hard-pressed after four years to find a midfielder as solid as senior Kristofer Konradsson. With a laser left-footed shot to the lower right corner and good quality on the ball, the midfielder brought stability to a position that saw near-constant changes this season. Expressive, the senior captain also brought four years of depth and laughter to his interview about the program.  

“My parents always told me I started kicking a ball before I started walking, basically,” Konradsson began. “Soccer’s a huge sport back home in Iceland, probably the biggest sport for a couple of years now. I started training when I was three and never looked back.”

That journey took him all the way to Boston College, where even though he’d been playing since he was three, there was still a culture shock with the American style of playing soccer. The changes started with the name, having switched from using football to soccer, but they go deeper than that, Konradsson said. “The three substitutions throughout the whole game and how different coaches and different teams utilize that—shifting people a lot, you playing twenty minutes, taking a break. It took a little bit of time getting used to going out of a game, coming into a game.”

Another difference was the amount of cardio. Konradsson’s least favorite drill is running without the ball, so it makes sense that he would notice changes in the game that required him to run more. “I would say what people mostly say about European football, apart from USA football, [European football] is more tactical. You try and save your runs and save your breath, but down here it’s just ‘run, run’ keep on running and it’s going to come. That’s what took me the most time to actually figure out.”

Not that the transition to college soccer is ever easy. Freshmen duo Aidan Farwell and Drew Serafino also noticed big changes in their first season. Farwell noted that the biggest change was the “size and physicality.” After watching his old high school play, the size difference between leagues stood out as the biggest distinction between high school and college soccer.

Serafino had a different perspective. “Mine was just kinda confidence. I was confident coming in and stuff like that, but getting here…I lacked confidence the first couple of games.” He’s quick to tack on that “after that it was fine!” He was still quiet as he talked about how that confidence was easy to sustain after the first couple of games when people believed in you and you had proven yourself. “Everyone was good,” Serafino summarized, “Prep school and my club before, there were weak spots. The ACC…every team, every player is the best of where they came from. You’re kinda playing the best of the best.”

Luckily, the freshmen had a leadership trio of Ian Buehler, Christian Garner, and Konradsson to help them adjust to the season. “It’s always an honor,” the senior stressed, “It’s an honor, them seeing you as a leader. Of course, when you’re an upperclassman on the team, you’ve been here four years, and with the experience I’ve had of being by far the oldest on the team,” he chuckled, “I’m expected to be somewhat of a leader. But to be actually given the responsibility from the coaches, it kinda makes you focus more on what you’re doing both on the field and off the field. It’s helped me a lot personally, just how I approach the game, practices, everything about the sport.”

“My leadership comes from being on the field,” Konradsson claimed. “I use my experience on the field. I kinda had to completely change how I approached each game [when I was injured], with pep talks and all that. That was quite new.” Although he may best demonstrate his leadership on the field, those couple of games where he was injured proved that the team sees him as a leader off the field too. At halftime, Konradsson could be seen on the sidelines, gesturing as he instructed players on what he had noticed about the other team and how to improve their own game.

Garner and Buehler fill out the leadership trio. “I have to give Christian Garner his pep talks. He goes full out, he goes into another dimension. He’s the organizer of the team, of everything we do off the field, making sure all the equipment is there,” Konradsson laughed. “Ian Buehler…he goes in-between, he does both, in-between the extremes that Garner and I are.”

On top of managing a leadership role, Konradsson defined his role in the midfield as the person who “[connects] the defensive line and defensive mids to the attackers. So getting the ball up there, I’m supposed to be the player it runs through.” Konradsson takes a second to restate his answer, carefully choosing his words. “The field of play runs through me from the defenders to the attacking. Once we’re there, my role is to find those attackers in the best positions on the field, for them to execute and score goals.” A solid midfield makes for a well-oiled defense and dangerous offense… as well as lots of running.

For the Eagles, a solid midfield meant rotating in several players due to constant injury-related formation changes. And those guys “all came with their own attributes. You have to acknowledge that these are news guys, all coming from different places, and soccer is such a worldwide sport played in such different ways. There’re so many different ways that people are taught the game, so it’s going to take time to get everybody on the same page.” As other teammates mentioned, “having three weeks of preseason and then going into games every two or three days, you kind of don’t have any time to build that bond—you have to do it on the field.”

Reflecting across the season, Konradsson mentioned the strengths of his fellow midfielders. “If you just take Amos [Shapiro-Thompson]…talk about leading by example, he’s perfect. He’s the ultimate professional, how he takes care of himself. And then on the field, he’s the energizer rabbit, just running around, we feed off his energy all game.” Without taking a breath, he continued, “And then if we talk about Mo [Frahm]…he’s just got that big frame, big guy, big presence. It was a new position for him, of course, so he probably felt a bit uncomfortable the first games. But with his experience from Germany and where he’s played, I think that helped him a lot.”

Being a senior, Konradsson knows the program better than most, which begs the question, what changes does he bring to the program? The answer doesn’t come quickly, the senior takes half a minute to think over his answer. “I think…changing the mindset, just the core mindset of the program: always kinda feeling like an underdog,” Konradsson said. He hesitated a moment before adding, “and also feeling like we don’t have the same opportunities at the same time as other ACC schools—I think those are the schools we mostly compare ourselves with.”

He went further, “We’re always talking about how the academics down here take way more time than maybe other schools in the ACC and how you have to be more of a student-athlete than an athlete-student and all that. But that’s just the reality of it.” He sighed, “If you’re gonna take the next step, you’re not gonna change the school, it’s not gonna happen, so you’re gonna have to change the mindset. That’s just the beginning of taking that step of being in the higher tier of the ACC schools and staying there.”

Within college soccer, the ACC is known to produce some of the toughest competition in Division I soccer. Konradsson noted, “I’ve seen a lot of these yo-yo teams in the ACC that goes through classes and go through years. But if you want to actually stay there as a top-tier ACC school, just that mindset and culture of the team has to change.” There’s a weariness there, as Konradsson knows the time and energy that change is going to take. 

The freshmen agree. Farwell described the program as “building. I’d say almost built. There was a lot to figure out, we had so many new kids. I would say definitely headed in the right direction.” Konradsson pointed out in his interview that the influx of new players this year tied back to the Covid-19 year, where other programs brought players in but the Eagles elected to forgo the fall season. Farwell echoed Konradsson when he added, “I’d say under-valued, under-appreciated.”

Serafino chimed in with “under-estimated” before adding that he would call the program “transitioning because prior to injuries this year, with our recruiting class coming in and Adama [Kaba] coming in as well, we were expected to have a really good season, based on how the team over-performed,” here Serafino waffled, not wanting to say previous classes had under-performed. “It’s kinda in a transition, getting the groups together. It’s in the right direction. From building to…being that team,” Farwell finished the sentence, “that we want to be.”

And both were quick to point out the undefeated at-home record that the team boasted this year at Newton. “That’s our goal for our four years here: not lose a home game.”

When asked the same question about what they would change about the program, without hesitating Serafino answered “mentality.” Farwell echoed that sentiment before Serafino expanded. “I feel like sometimes we would go into games and we’d respect them a little too much and be like ‘oh this team’s good’ and we’d try to get results, likes ties and stuff like that was good enough. I feel like going into every game like we’re the best team and they should be trying to get a result against us,” Serafino said.

Farwell elaborated, “Teams, especially like Virginia Tech, that I thought we were honestly much better than, when we played against them we had the ball almost the whole first half, the first thirty minutes they didn’t really press us. In games like that, why aren’t we going at them relentlessly? We started to gain more confidence in that, in games like Wake Forest we point at as a better mentality.”

“Every game has to be that must-win mentality,” Serafino stated, forcefully. “We need to be more focused on not worrying about getting to be the team that everyone wants to beat, but thinking that we are that team. The more you think it, the more it's gonna happen. We’re a team that can make a noise.” Farwell added, “We’re a little too reserved is the mentality.” Serafino finished, “It’s on everybody to be self-motivated and also help each other push to the next level.”

Four-year players and first-semester freshmen have the same view of a program that can only improve on a disappointing 2021 campaign. 

Thank you to Kristofer Konradsson, Aidan Farwell, and Drew Serafino for their time and thoughtful answers!

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