SEASON OUTLOOK: 2018 MEN'S SOCCER
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany men’s soccer program stands on the cusp of the 2018 season and looks to continue its two-year long championship run. The Great Danes have won each of the last two America East titles, and have advanced to at least the Second Round of the last two NCAA Tournaments.
The 2018 roster features a strong core of returning star seniors who have anchored the Danes’ recent championship run. However, roughly half of the roster is new this year, with a recruiting class numbering in the double-digits.
“We have a lot of new players in the mix,” said head coach Trevor Gorman. “We’ve had the chance to play three preseason opponents that gave us great opportunities for all those guys to experience minutes and other elements of Division I soccer. We’re going to take that experience that we and hopefully now put it towards being ready to continue that growth into the season as we look to establish combinations and partnerships and everything between the new guys and the guys returning.”
Last year, UAlbany set a Division I era program record with 14 victories, surpassing the 13 they won to tie the original record the year before. After securing the four-seed in the America East Tournament, the Great Danes advanced past UMBC, and then top-seed Vermont to meet UMass Lowell in the championship game. The Great Danes dispatched the Riverhawks in the second overtime with a spectacular goal from freshman Andreas Assiotis, netting his first goal of the season.
The team drew Maryland in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. A scoreless tie after regulation and two overtime periods led to penalty kicks, where UAlbany gutted out a victory after eight tight rounds. The Danes advanced to play 10-seed Western Michigan, ultimately falling to the Broncos 2-0.
But despite the collective success in the last two seasons, the calendar resets and new goals are set for a new team in 2018, starting with how the individual players come together in the preseason.
“The mood of the team is great,” said Gorman. The team spirit and togetherness has all come together nicely. We have a fun group of guys that are enjoyable to be around, that like each other, that hopefully continue to grow now.”
The group of new players will not only look to jump in and complement the returners, but also try to step into some of the roles left behind by players who have departed the program. Among those departures was forward Afonso Pinheiro, who graduated in December, 2017 as the program’s all-time leading scorer, and was later drafted by D.C. United in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. Additionally, defensive mainstays Moosah Khanat and Jeff Medina have exhausted their eligibility, leaving openings alongside returners Riccardo Iafrate and Adam Malekos on what has, in recent seasons, been a rock solid defensive line for the UAlbany.
Despite the departures, the returning players account for nearly 70% of 2017’s scoring production. The 2017 squad ranks third in program history in scoring, behind just 2008 and 2016.
“I think we’re excited about all of our players,” said Gorman. “It’s fun to see new players come into the group. And it’s always exciting to not only see what a player might be but what we might be as a team. Where we are now is nothing close to what we’ll be come October and November.”
Bringing the newcomers up to speed will largely fall on the returning core, featuring, among others, goalkeeper Danny Vitiello, defender Daniel Krutzen, midfielder Carlos Clark, and forward Nico Solabarrieta. Vitiello ranked among the top goalkeepers in the America East last season. Krutzen who was named to the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy Preseason Watch List, led the conference in assists and was ultimately named All-America Third Team. Solabarrieta led last year’s squad in total scoring. Vitiello needs three wins to take over as the program’s Division I leader in victories, and Solabarrieta’s next assist will break a three-way tie atop the record book in the category with Pinheiro and Stephan Hall (2003-06).
“Their experience provides great information and knowledge,” said Gorman. “They have a confidence about them, an expectation of standard and success. And you hope that gets imparted into anyone new that comes in or around the program. Our returning guys have already done a fantastic job of really doing their part to take on a role within the team that helps the message get across and to take ownership of the process, and I think that’s part of what makes them as valuable as they are to our program.”
As has been the case in recent years, the 2018 Great Danes are a diverse group. Among the two-dozen players on the roster, there are representatives from six states, as well as 10 countries.
“I think it’s the norm in college soccer now,” said Gorman. “Soccer is the greatest, most diverse, and most popular sport in the world, so it’s only natural that here, where we have this unique environment of college athletics we would look to combine high-level athletics and high-level academics you’re going to see top players from all over the world seeking to come here. And that increases the level of the domestic players as well. Players from near and far are used to playing with players with different backgrounds, upbringings, and experiences. To them, it’s soccer. Good players find ways to play with each other.”
This year’s schedule features seven home games, three of which will be played in the first 10 days of the season. The schedule also features road trips of three games and five games. After the third home game, UAlbany will play nine of its next 11 games away from Casey Stadium, including breaks of 18 and 21 days between home games.
“You know your opponents, you know the environments you’re going into, and you know if you’re traveling what the schedule is going to be,” said Gorman. “It’s just going to be about being as physically and mentally prepared as we can for each match, home or away. Every game is hard in Division I college soccer. There are no bad teams, there are teams that have special players, and most games are on a knife’s edge and can be decided by a moment. You just have to go into it with the right approach and hope that your plan pays off and that when the moments come you’re ready to take them.”
The America East has been one of the top conferences in the country for the last few years. Last season, UAlbany was joined by New Hampshire in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats advanced to the Round of 16 before falling to two-seed Indiana.
“I expect the America East to be strong,” said Gorman. “I think everyone in the league has worked to get better. If we look at all of the teams, based upon returning players and the standings of previous years, and knowing opposing coaching staffs, I’m very confident that every team has gone out and found good players to mix with their good returning players. I expect any team in our league to be good enough to beat anybody. We know that by the time September hits when we get into conference play it’s going to be a battle and we’re going to be playing against some of the elite teams in the country.”
With the first game of the season just a few days away, the team will look to come together as a single unit and establish their identity coming out of the preseason.
“We just focus on trying to get better every day,” said Gorman. “Right now we’re in a stretch where we have to determine who we are. We have to have an identity. Like most teams coming out of preseason we have to get everyone to 100% health and fitness and build our way into the season. Preseason is so short. It ends after just 15 days. Nobody is ready for the start of the season, so the first two weekends you can see a lot of results all over the country that don’t make sense. That’s all part of teams figuring things out. If we get better, if we keep pushing ourselves, keep focusing on that simple goal of getting ourselves better, then we’ll know we’re up for the competition.”
Gorman will lean on his returning core, those who have driven the Great Danes’ run over the last two seasons, to set the tone for the team this year.
“Any coach will tell you that it helps to have winners on the roster,” said Gorman. “Guys who have experienced success and who expect to and want to win again, that can’t help but be a good influence. We’re fortunate to have a number of players who have had very successful tenures here so far. That’s a great example to set for new guys coming through. We have a great core of experienced guys and I know they’ll have a good influence on everyone around them.”
The Great Danes open the season on Friday, August 24 against Marist at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. UAlbany has gone 22-4-3 at home over the last three seasons.
Tickets are available in all seating areas for $50 for games only, or for $75 for games and parking.