Coach: Captains key to soccer’s turnaround

By Carlos Toro

In 2012, the Rider men’s soccer team lost a 2-0 home game to Saint Peter’s to finish the season with a disappointing record of 3-13-1.

Head Coach Charlie Inverso remembered those tough first years when he came into the program.

“Things were pretty dark,” Inverso said. “A lot of guys had left and I thought it was never going to turn around. I just put my head down and tried to be optimistic.”

Inverso said that he heard a lot of chatter surrounding the state of the men’s soccer team and how he could never make the necessary adjustments to make it successful. He also heard that the team did not have the resources to succeed. After 2012, the team had a two-year record of 7-26-3.

However, a beacon of hope appeared in the form of three players that would help lead the program from being among the bottom teams in the MAAC to champions in just 42 games across three years.

Rider graduates Eric Elgin, ’14, Ryan Walsh, ’15, and current senior Sonimi Halliday were all captains in each of their senior years at Rider, and all helped lead the turnaround that resulted in the team’s first MAAC Championship since 1998 when they won it on Nov. 9.

Under these players’ leadership, since 2013, the team’s record is 31-22-4, the best record in a three-year span since the 1996-1998 seasons when the Broncs finished with a combined record of 37-23-3.

Inverso stated that while these three players were the captains for the past three seasons, they were not chosen by vote. He said that the team does not formally choose its captains; rather several players were being looked at as leaders of the team.

“With Elgin, it was easy naming him captain,” Inverso said. “He was the only senior on that team. He’s incredibly organized and if anyone had a problem, theywent to Elgin. With Walsh, everyone says that he is one of the most passionate players they have ever seen and people have a tendency to gravitate towards him. He brings a personality to the team. He is always in a positive mood and sets the mood for the whole team, whether it would be in practice or in a game. Of the three guys, Sonimi was the best player and he just took over the reins from them. We were very lucky to have him.”

The differences between the three players don’t stop there. Despite all of them ending upin Bronc uniforms, how they got to Rider was an entirely different story.

Elgin was already on the team when Inverso became head coach and was the most experienced of his bunch. Elgin said that Rider’s accounting program and its soccer team were the deciding factors for him to choosing to attend Rider. Walsh joined the team just two weeks before his freshman season after being cut from the Bucknell team during preseason of that year. Halliday was recruited by Inverso thanks to a recommendation.

When all three players roomed together in 2013 in the White Pine apartment complex near Rider, they were inseparable. All they remember was the fun times and the connection they had.

Halliday said that they had many great memories as housemates. He stated that they all brought something to the table as people, but that living together with them was an unforgettable experience.

“It was pretty awesome being teammates with both of my housemates,” Halliday said. “The three of us had great chemistry. Eric was the most level-headed out of the three of us, and more than often set the example on and off the field, while Walsh was the first person to turn your bad day into a great day.”

When Elgin was captain in 2013, the team already saw positive results. The Broncs won eight games, the most in a season since 2000. It was a step in the right direction for a program that needed something to revitalize it to its former glory.

Once Elgin graduated, Walsh was then made the captain for 2014, followed by Halliday this season.

“Without guys like Ryan and Sonimi, it would have been impossible to change the culture of the program,” Elgin said. “They are two of the hardest working players I have ever played with, which has rubbed off on the entire team and helped them be successful today.”

Sonimi, the youngest out of the three players, learned a lot from his two older, former roommates. With Elgin and Walsh being different people, there was a lot that Halliday took from them on how to be a better leader and player.

Halliday recalled a game played earlier this season against Seton Hall. Rider was trailing 1-0 with five minutes  remaining. He said that thanks to Walsh and Elgin’s leadership, he and the team did not panic and won the game 2-1 on two late goals.

“I think the biggest thing I learned from Eric and Walsh was to stay calm in the face of pressure,” Halliday said. “Both of these guys have taught me the importance of staying calm and setting the example for your players.”

But it wasn’t just Halliday that learned how to be a better leader. Both Walsh and Elgin learned a lot in their time at Rider. For Walsh, it was how to be a better leader thanks to watching Elgin lead the team in his final season. As for Elgin, he learned how to not take games for granted and how to stay positive in the face of tough times.

“I was at a program where the coach really cared about every single player,” Walsh said. “It was program that was close to home which allowed my parents to support me every day, and a program that taught me how to be a leader thanks to my roommate Eric Elgin.”

“I learned there is no such thing as an easy win in soccer and it taught me how to change a negative culture into a positive culture, which hopefully will help me in my career,” Elgin said.

The two former captains knew that one way or another, the team was on its way to being a great one. They had faith in Halliday leading the charge, and it has resulted in Rider’s first conference championship in almost two decades.

“I knew this program was going to get over the hump,” Walsh said. “I was passing the captaincy down to roommate number two, Sonimi Halliday. He was ready to lead the team. Rider had a talented group returning, I knew they were ready to take over the MAAC.”

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