As a team that has eight freshmen and five sophomores, the Boston University men’s soccer team is inherently inexperienced. A string of injuries to many of the key upperclassmen have thrown many of the underclassmen into playing significant minutes for BU coach Neil Roberts.
Roberts said that he believes the players that have stepped in have done well.
“In the Army game, being without all of those players, we did extremely well and that was a very positive thing,” Roberts said. “Maybe we lost our concentration at the end of the game, because maybe we just didn’t have a lot of the kids that would’ve been starting, and the ones that would’ve been reserves have been starting and it makes it difficult. You’re putting young kids off the bench that maybe aren’t ready yet, but they are doing the best that they can.”
A string of injuries has involved senior forward Ali Sozeri, senior midfielder Fannar Arnarsson and junior back Kelvin Madzongwe, who is returning from a torn ACL. As a result, the three contributors have seen limited time for the Terriers (3-6-1, 0-2 Patriot League) on the pitch so far this season.
“Fortunately, none of the injuries are long term,” Roberts said. “They’re just muscle injuries, and it just seems a bit odd to have that many of them at the same time, but it is what it is. With [Madzongwe], I obviously feel bad for him.”
“He’s really [only] been able to play one complete game this season, so it’s been very frustrating for him. He’s worked so hard to come back from his injury, from surgery last year, and it just hasn’t worked out for him as of now. We’ve still got time left and he’s close to returning so it’s a very frustrating time for him right now.”
Despite the fact that they have not won since Sept. 17 when they played Northeastern University, the Terriers are still in a good spot to improve moving forward. The string of injuries has forced Roberts to play underclassmen who may not be ready yet.
“They have to fight their way through it and they have to make mistakes and get it corrected,” Roberts said of the underclassmen. “You’ve got to deal with it and the only way to get them experience is to get them in there. You’d like to do it in the spring, but they’re getting some experience right now.
“You’re getting to see a lot of guys getting a lot of action that we didn’t expect them to this year so hopefully, we’ll get guys back and that will be a benefit for us going down the stretch.”
Terriers’ offense improving
During their three-game losing streak, the Terriers have scored only three goals, with one against Brown University and two against the U.S. Military Academy. Despite the lack of scoring, Roberts believes that the offense has progressed since the beginning of the year.
“I think the offense is coming,” Roberts said. “I think if you look at the Harvard [University], Brown and Army games, we’ve created a lot of chances. We really created a lot of chances in the Brown game, we missed a penalty kick, missed a couple of very good opportunities, the goalkeeper made a couple of really good saves, so, again, that was a good sign for us. Army, we scored two goals against a team that has given up three or four goals all year and we could’ve had a couple more.”
Roberts believes that the team kicked up its intensity another gear against Army (7-1-1, 2-0) following the 3-1 loss against Brown (3-4-2). Despite losing 3-2 on two goals in the final 10 minutes, Roberts said he was impressed with the performance on offense.
“I don’t know if I’ve been in a situation with a group of young kids that had a more devastating loss because they put so much into the game,” Roberts said. “They came out because they didn’t do well in the Brown game, they came out with the right mindset. They did a lot of good things and had the game so close and didn’t get the result that they worked for and wanted. It was very devastating so we’ve got to make sure that we get over that.”
Roberts looking for senior leadership
The injuries to key upperclassmen leaders had an effect both on and off the field. Midfielder Anthony Ciccone has been one of the only seniors who has played consistently.
Ciccone has started in all 10 games this season, one of four Terriers who has done so. He has been strong on the field, helping the Terriers to control the ball in the midfield. He also has four assists this season, the best mark on the team.
Although Ciccone has been strong, Roberts said he is looking for the seniors to step up during the team’s struggles.
“That’s a very important thing,” Roberts said. “It’s difficult for [Madzongwe] because he’s devastated that he hasn’t been able to help, so that’s difficult. [Sozeri] is out and [Arnarsson] is out, so the only senior that has really played is [Ciccone] right now. We’ve got to really deal with it and they’ve got to step up and help each other out.”