Collegiate soccer shouldn’t come this easy to any player, never mind a freshman with just over a month of experience.
Aaron O’Neal’s breakout campaign continued in impressive fashion last night, as the forward netted both goals in Boston University’s 2-0 win over the University of Maine at Nickerson Field. The Virginia Beach, Va. native notched his fourth and fifth tallies of the season in the 42nd and 53rd minutes, respectively, buoying the Terriers to their first America East victory.
Dating back to last Tuesday’s upset victory over previously unbeaten Brown University, O’Neal has registered three of BU’s last four goals, essentially carrying an offense that has yet to receive consistent production from veteran scorers Neil Hlavaty, Jin Oh and Petur Sigurdsson.
What’s been O’Neal’s key to success? Nothing too complicated, said BU coach Neil Roberts.
‘He’s very smart on the ball and listens very well,’ Roberts said. ‘In the [University of] Rhode Island game [Sept. 21], he could have had a couple goals but just didn’t follow things up because he was watching more than playing. But you show him the tape and talk to him and then [last night] in his first opportunity the ball bounces in and it leads to a goal.’
In 11 appearances (five starts), the rookie has proved to be a deadly weapon off the bench. After compiling a team-best 11 points in limited minutes, O’Neal’s role as a starter appears imminent.
The striker’s early-season accomplishments haven’t come without the requisite hard work and dedication necessary to produce results.
‘It hasn’t been easy because I’ve had to work,’ O’Neal said. ‘[The success] is surprising, but it’s nice. I’ve got to keep working if I want it to continue. I’m just playing simple right now and trying to do the right things.’
O’Neal’s on-field efficiency has been matched only by his toughness. After assisting on sophomore Shaun Taylor’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Binghamton University, O’Neal was forced to leave the game after suffering an injury. According to Roberts, O’Neal’s status for last night’s game was doubtful before the forward proclaimed himself available to play after Tuesday’s practice.
‘Aaron’s playing unbelievable,’ Roberts said. ‘I don’t wanna say he’s surprising me, but he’s impressing me. We didn’t think he’d play [last night], but he trained [Tuesday] and felt pretty good. He’s a tough kid.’
Not your average Joe
After more than two years of watching from the sidelines, redshirt sophomore Joe Cullaro made his first career start in goal last night. Cullaro started in place of starter Hrafn Davidsson, who suffered a foot injury during Tuesday’s practice.
The New York City native collected three saves to earn the shutout, subduing the few legitimate scoring opportunities generated by the Maine forwards.
Despite his lack of experience, the BU backs have responded well to Cullaro’s presence in net.
‘The guys were very confident in him,’ Roberts said. ‘He’s worked very hard over the last two years, so when Hrafn got hurt [Tuesday], we had Joe and knew we’d be fine.
‘Joe was pretty clean [last night],’ Roberts added. ‘He did what he had to do. He made a big save in the first half, and was good kicking and playing the ball back.’
Cullaro, who had made two appearances in relief of Davidsson prior to last night, learned of his starting assignment at an unexpected time.
‘I found out in Italian class [yesterday] morning when one of my teammates told me,’ Cullaro said. ‘I’ve wanted to play all year, so I’ve just been waiting for my chance. The more experience you get the better you get, so we’ll see.’
Davidsson’s injury will keep him out of Saturday’s game against Penn State University at Nickerson Field, Roberts said. Cullaro, fresh off his sparkling debut, is the likely candidate to start over fellow sophomore Jason Lucas.
Sigurdsson, who has struggled to regain his mobility after offseason groin surgery, rolled an ankle during Monday’s practice and did not play in last night’s game. Roberts said the Iceland native is expected to return to the lineup this weekend against the Nittany Lions.
In nine appearances (four starts), the team’s 2006 leading scorer has tallied three goals and an assist.