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Men's Soccer Season Preview

Do you believe in miracles? BC men’s soccer does and they’re confident that this is the season the puzzle pieces finally come together. There’s a bubbling sense of optimism over on Newton that’s more than just the feeling of a clean slate at the start of the season. The Eagles aren’t bragging about it, yet, but if the season goes the way they’re planning for, they’ll be the first to say “I told you so.”

LAST SEASON/THIS SEASON

While the Eagles need to have the memory of a goldfish, and that internal belief in themselves, fans might recall that last season ended with a 1-0 loss to UNC in the first round of the ACC tournament. The Eagles had a dismal winning percentage of .406 with a record of 4-7-5. As the season slogged on, there was a sense the Eagles could never get their foot on the gas, always struggling to put together a complete performance and find the back of the net. With offensive struggles, a defense that continuously gave up free kicks in dangerous positions, and a midfield that never looked truly comfortable, perhaps the Eagles record wasn’t entirely unexpected.

With that in mind, the ACC preseason poll has predicted the Eagles to finish 5th in the Atlantic division (out of six) with 23 points. In the ACC as a whole, those 23 points would place the Eagles in 10th, which was their ranking in last year’s ACC tournament. Within their ACC schedule, the Eagles play No.5 Pitt, No.18 Wake Forest, No.15 Virginia, No.9 Clemson, and No.1 Syracuse—in that order with the rankings according to the United Coaches Poll. A tough ACC schedule, although only Clemson is played on the road, a blessing for a team that hasn’t won an away ACC game in six years.

THE BIG QUESTION MARK (MENTALITY)

The biggest uncertainty going into this season: mentality. What Eagles team is going to show up on day one? After the first loss? After a bad call by the referee or when BC concedes first? Historically, the Eagles haven’t been able to play a full 90 minutes with an attitude of never say die, we’re just going to win this thing no matter what happens. Certainly, players have stepped up and there have been moments where an individual pulls the whole team forward by deciding a loss is unacceptable. Those moments lasted around 20 minutes and almost never happened on the road, where the Eagles went winless last season, contributing to their woes. For those who watched the long slog of last season, there was a sense of intense frustration and an inability to move past mistakes.

Preseason scrimmages have only strengthened this question mark. Against UMass, the Eagles showed visible frustration throughout the match, particularly after UMass scored to tie the game. That frustration impacted connection on the field, with the Eagles losing control of the midfield and resorting to a U-shaped passing map that slowed the game to a crawl. The tangible frustration and inability to reassert control over the game felt like the same old same old, although the Eagles managed to hang on to the tie instead of letting the game slip away.

Admittedly, Providence was much better, especially after Providence scored the go-ahead goal a minute into the second half. Led by Drew Serafino, the team had a burst of creativity for about 30 minutes, pushing for the tying goal and having three or four chances to find it. The team appeared more connected as well, still skeptical of the middle of the field, but not absolutely adverse to driving to the center occasionally. The sustained pressure and “punch back” attitude will be the keys to a successful, winning season. BC lost 2-1 to Providence, but it was the kind of loss that felt like a win in terms of showcasing the kind of mentality BC will need for every game of the regular season.

Diego Simeone, manager of Atlético Madrid, once told his players, “you have to play the games with a knife between your teeth on the pitch.” Who on the Eagles is going to play with a knife between their teeth? Who will do it consistently and without overly aggressive fouls? The Eagles are a young team that can easily slide into bad habits and blame it on immaturity. Who’s willing to play with a knife between their teeth that holds off opponents and holds their own teammates responsible? And who can do that for 90 minutes, not just 20 or 30 or a half? Those are the questions that the Eagles need to answer.

THE OTHER BIG QUESTION (SKILL)

Now, you may be asking the question: even if the Eagles get the mentality right, do they have the talent to make a deep run? The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. In fact, that’s part of the frustration surrounding the mentality question. If the Eagles could put together a consistent, high pressure, focused 90 minutes they have the potential to be one of the toughest teams in the ACC to play. More than that, the Eagles are an extremely young team all things considered, which means other ACC teams don’t have the scouting in place yet to accurately predict game time tendencies.

That youth presents a big question mark, but not necessarily a bad question mark. The ceiling for each of the freshmen, and the sophomores, is a question mark. The good news? CJ Williams looks perfectly at ease in the center back position, despite missing the spring season due to injury. With the Eagles tendency to build from the left side, Williams plays an important role as a left-footed distributor (Diego Ochoa is another). He’s steady under pressure, a trusted outlet by his goalkeepers, and has significant minutes under his belt. The only thing Williams needs to watch out for is yellow card accumulation—whether justified or not, referees tend to call Williams for fouls.

And if you’re worried about the Eagles offense, yes, there is a huge question mark surrounding who will fill Stefan Sigurdarson’s spot. The short answer to that question is: no one. There’s likely not a 12-goal scorer on the Eagles roster at this point in time. The long answer is: there’s scoring talent across the pitch that should help to alleviate the loss.

For starters, both Ted Cargill and Ochoa can score on a set piece, something the Eagles have been lacking for years. More than that, both Cargill and Ochoa’s delivery on set piece balls can be pinpoint accurate, increasing the likelihood that BC will score on set piece balls. And, talking about distribution, goalkeeper Brennan Klein can break down opposition lines with a well-placed long ball on either a goal kick opportunity or simply by choosing to pass long down the wing or finding Serafino in the center to start the attack.

Of course, all those pieces were there last year as well. The difference lies in the wingers. Marco Dos Santos and Xavier O’Neil have both done well in the two preseason matchups, impressing with both their speed and their commitment to both offense and defense. Unlike last year, there’s movement across lines, with the wingers overlapping and dropping back to help on the defense. Augustine Boadi offers another option for speed, Jonathan Murphy offers experience, and Alfie Hughes can drive centrally to free up space in the box. The mix of new and (moderately) experienced midfielders adds creativity to a BC attack that has struggled in the final third.

Skill or mentality on their own aren’t enough to win a college season. The Eagles will need their mentality when they come up against opponents that aren’t easily broken down or when calls start going against them. But they’ll also need their skill to combat teams that play with a ton of heart, like Siena or Endicott last year. Those games were winnable on skill alone, but BC played down their own skill and made both of those games harder than they needed to be. Don’t question the skill on the Eagles, it’s there, in every position and coming in off the bench. The better question is if the Eagles can manage to play at their level even against opponents that try and bait them into playing down. This season needs to be about the Eagles setting the tempo of every game, instead of allowing the opposition to set the tone.

PREDICTIONS

Historically, believing the ACC poll is the correct way to approach this season—BC is too volatile a team to be able to use preseason games to predict how the season will go. However, if you’re feeling generous, bet on the Eagles being a game or two above .500. The Eagles love a good chip on the shoulder and games against Wake Forest and reigning National Champions Syracuse carry a personal touch—former Eagles play on both those teams. More than that, the Eagles start their ACC season away at NC State, a match that allows BC to break the away game curse early, with no prior ACC experience in the season, and against a team predicted to finish below them in the table.

If you want to hedge your bets, look at who’s scoring and how often. If Boadi breaks through, that’s a good sign because it takes pressure off the freshmen to produce in their first college season. Serafino doesn’t have to score every game, but he does have to control game flow, hold up play to free the wingers, and keep the tempo up—especially when games aren’t going the Eagles way. Are the corner kick takers finding Williams and is he starting to put some of his headers in the back of the net? BC doesn’t have to score a lot—their defense and goalkeeping has been impressive for years considering the quality of their opponents—but reliable goal scorers will help to quickly change the narrative around the team.

Perhaps the best way to see how the Eagles season is going to go is to look at the center of the field. In preseason the Eagles played with a double six composed of Ted Cargill and Connor Gibson, with Sam White serving as a game-changing sub. Against UMass, BC couldn’t control the midfield or pass through it. Against Providence, after an initial period of uncertainty, BC found some success going through the midfield to find Serafino who then distributed the ball wide. If the two sixes don’t seem comfortable, that’s an early sign that the match, and ultimately the season, will be full of the ups and downs familiar to BC soccer fans.

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