NCAA, Soccer, Sports

From FIU backup to BU starter — men’s soccer goalkeeper Francesco Montali elevated his game

Two years ago, senior goalkeeper Francesco Montali was looking for a new home following a pair of underwhelming seasons at Florida International University. Not only has he found a starting role at Boston University, but he’s also taken his game to unprecedented heights, earning the 2022 Patriot League Goalie of the Year award.

With both his older brothers and sister playing the sport, soccer has always been in Montali’s life. The Davie, Florida native played the field until middle school, when he volunteered to play goalie out of positional need. That was the right decision, as Montali never looked back and quickly began getting scouted.

Boston University men's soccer
Senior goalkeeper Francesco Montali during a game against American University on Oct. 23. After transferring from Florida International University to Boston University, Montali has earned the award of the 2022 Patriot League Goalie of the Year. ELIZA NUESTRO/DFP STAFF

“I was just kind of thrown in net,” Montali said. “I just loved throwing myself, diving around and getting dirty.”

Montali’s talent has never been questioned, with the keeper training at some of America’s top soccer academies. He first played for the Orlando City SC U-18/19 team and then for the New York Red Bulls U-18/19 team before committing to FIU.

Unfortunately, Montali redshirted as a freshman and could not travel to out-of-state games. FIU’s starting goalkeeper was a graduate student, and Montali didn’t have the collegiate experience to compete for the starting job. Adding in the 2020 COVID-plagued year, Montali decided it was best for him to leave.

Despite the lack of personal success at his old school, Montali did make one crucial connection — current Boston University head coach Kevin Nylen. Nylen was the head coach at FIU from 2017 to 2019 and originally recruited Montali to play for the Panthers.

“I went into the portal not really knowing that coach Nylen would even be looking for a goalkeeper,” Montali said. “Five minutes into being in the NCAA transfer portal, I get a call from (BU’s then) assistant coach telling me that they’ve been waiting for me to go into the portal.”

Not only was Montali excited about what he could accomplish through the soccer program, but he cited academics as a key reason for the move, calling BU “the perfect fit.”

The relationship between the player and coach continued to grow as Montali was immediately thrust into the starting 11. He started all 13 games as a junior but was unable to crack the top five in any major goalie statistic besides saves per game in the Patriot League due to a porous backline.

Even though it could’ve been easy to start over and reshuffle the squad, Nylen and his staff stuck with the players they were dealt, including Montali in net.

“(Nylen) just gives me a lot of confidence,” Montali said. “I’m chosen to start not just because he likes me as a person, but because of the work that I put in every day in training.”

When Montali’s senior season kicked off this Fall, expectations for him and the team were low. The Terriers were picked to finish eighth out of the 10 Patriot League teams.

The keeper blossomed during the season, putting himself among the elite college goalies and producing one of the greatest goaltending seasons in program history. Following the regular season, Montali finished with a tie for the third-lowest goals-against average in BU history, as well as ranking sixth in the nation in save percentage, tied for 15th in shutouts and placed 16th in goals against average.

Despite the individual accolades, Montali credits the successful season to the strides the team as a whole has made, as well as the respect and friendship that has grown between teammates.

“A huge part of that definitely comes down to team culture. We harped on that in Spring and coming into preseason this season, and it’s proven to work,” Montali said. “When you want to defend for the guy next to you, it means more to you.”

While Montali’s dream is to continue playing soccer at a professional level, he’s made the most of his time in the classroom during his two years at BU. In addition to his athletic background, he’s developed an interest in the big screen, majoring in film and television at the College of Communication.

“I love it. I’m taking a screenwriting class right now which I’ve really enjoyed,” Montali said. “Creative writing has always been an outlet for me. I’ve always loved reading and writing if I have free time.”

Another hobby the senior has picked up is playing the guitar. Montali said most of the songs he can strum are from the Beatles, a childhood favorite. His upbringing, especially his parents, helped him become diverse in his interests.

“My dad is obviously a big inspiration for myself, and he’s always encouraged me to definitely have a life outside of sports,” Montali said.

However, with another year of eligibility, Montali said that his reign in goal is not over.

“I’ve got one more year of eligibility so I’ll be taking a fifth year,” Montali said in an interview with BUTV10’s “Terrier Nation.” “I’ll be back next Fall. Hopefully we can have the same or more success as we have this year.”

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