By Thomas Albano
The men’s soccer team put on performances to remember last season. Though the Broncs fell short of having a winning record for the first time since 1998, they were able to achieve the most wins the program has had since 2000.
Eric Elgin, ’14, the team captain of last season, was a defensive player always praised by Head Coach Charlie Inverso for his leadership, personality and influence on teammates.
Unfortunately for the Broncs, Elgin graduated last spring. However, some of the younger players may now be poised to take leadership positions.
The 2013 men’s soccer team consisted of 11 freshmen, eight sophomores, four juniors and Elgin, the only senior. This year’s soccer team consists of three freshmen, 12 sophomores, seven juniors and four seniors.
So, the 2014 team has the potential to be even better than last year’s. The 2013 roster was a very young squad with little to no NCAA experience. With another year under their belts, the 2014 Broncs could make big strides.
All of the sophomores who played last season as freshmen returned to the team, including preseason All-MAAC midfielder Christian Flath.
Joining this year is forward Adil Iich from Sweden. Retaining Flath and adding Iich will help soften the blow after three of Rider’s rising juniors departed following the 2013 season. The team was able to retain junior preseason All-MAAC back Sonimi Halliday and add two more juniors: goalkeeper Ryan Baird and midfielder Florian Valot.
The strength of the returning roster means that most members of the team have experience playing together. This can be key since it will lead to better communication among the athletes.
After all, communication is crucial in soccer. Sports like baseball and basketball present a mix of individual and team statistics and accomplishments. But in soccer, individual rewards are nearly impossible to attain without teamwork. Usually you can’t get that goal unless there are one or two people willing to assist you. Also, you need that goalkeeper who can give the defense a boost as well as call out some strategy to the team.
Speaking of which, goalkeeping is one of the biggest strengths on Rider’s team. Last season, while the Broncs had fewer goals and shot attempts, they had a better shot percentage. The Broncs had a total of 21 goals on 185 shot attempts for a shot percentage of .114, while their opponents had a total of 24 goals on 260 shot attempts for a percentage of only .092.
That comes from great goalkeeping, specifically from the contribution of sophomore David Pastuna. Rider had more saves than its opponents last season by a total of 86-61. Over the 16 games he played in, starting 15 of them, Pastuna made 65 of the Broncs’ 86 saves last season for a .747 save percentage.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncs could certainly improve on their time of possession and shots on goal. Out of the 185 shots from last season, 82 were shots on goal, scoring three fewer goals than their opponents.
So, there are two improvements that could be made. First, and most important, Rider players need to have more possession time on the ball. Secondly, it would help if they could create more scoring opportunities.
Rider was selected to finish eighth out of 11 in the preseason Coaches’ Poll this season. In addition, despite being picked to finish last in the 2013 season, the Broncs managed to take sixth place. With the team likely to benefit from stronger chemistry, it has the ability to go farther. Maybe this can be the year the Broncs have a .500 record or better once again. Maybe this can be the year Rider goes back to the postseason.
And don’t forget, most of these guys still have at least another year left, which is an exciting prospect.