Men's Soccer Outlook
Are there whispers making their way around NEC soccer circles about the demise of UMBC soccer? Pete Caringiís teams have been models of consistency since entering the league four years ago. The Retrievers have captured one league title, earned national ranking in back-to-back seasons and clinched spots in the four-team championship group in all four seasons. But with no less than six players drafted over the past three seasons, has the run come to an end?
"What weíve done here in achieving national success, putting players in the pros and graduating players is everything Iíve sought to do and many of my goals, dreams and aspirations for this program have been met," said UMBCís tenth-year mentor. "Having said that, we lose a lot of quality players. This year will be a new chapter, a year where our consistency will be challenged."
For the record, UMBC is 27-8-4 in four years of NEC play, and along with FDU, have been somewhat responsible for the overall improved quality of league play. "There is no question that what we did in Ď99 and what FDU did last year shows the quality of the teams in this conference," said Caringi. "The bar has been raised. --- There is no weak link in this league anymore. When we first got in the NEC, we looked at the schedule, and thought there were many games that we had a good chance of winning. I donít feel that way anymore."
Considering that the Retrievers lost a pair of impact professional players in MISL Rookie of the Year Billy Nelson and 30-goal scorer Giuliano Celenza, and nine other letterwinners, a 9-6-2 record and third-place NEC finish in 2001 was quite an achievement. UMBC averaged 2.6 goals per game in an 8-3-1 start, but managed just 2 goals in their last four games and ended the year with a 1-0 setback to eventual NEC Champion and Elite Eight participant FDU. UMBC outshot its last 13 opponents, and all but two during the season.
"Last year ended in a little bit of disappointment and frustration," recalled Caringi. "I look at last yearís seniors with a great deal of admiration. It was a great four-year run for many of them. At the end of year, we went into a scoring drought. With a little luck, we could have won the games down the stretch that we lost, but thatís soccer."
Though not as flashy as his predecessor in Celenza, freshman striker Derek McElligott drew comparisons for his production. The 2001 NEC Rookie of the Year tallied 12 goals, the most ever for a Retriever freshman, and displayed a varied arsenal of ways to attack the goal. The spring was not as kind to the Baltimore native, as he suffered a broken leg, and had not started to train by mid-summer.
"Derek had a phenomenal year," said Caringi. "I was the least surprised of everyone. I knew he could produce like that at this level. I am concerned about his health. As a goal scorer, you need timing and confidence. The question is--will he be ready?"
Ready or not, Coach Caringi will have to find additional weapons up front to complement or perhaps replace his talented sophomore. Sophomore George Bakoulas fell behind last year due to pre-season injuries, but was a valuable reserve, scoring three goals and adding a pair of assists. Junior Marco Angelini had an impressive junior college career and summer season with the national champion (U-23) Baltimore Bays, and freshmen Powell Cucchiella and Andres Serafini could also vie for playing time up front.
The midfield took a huge hit for UMBC this year, as they lost all-time assists leader James Hamilton, two-time First Team member P.J. Wakefield, and sparkplug Ricky Brown. A pair of starters return in senior Alex Wilmot and junior Brandon Quaranta. Wilmot was named last yearís Most Improved Player, as he finished tied for second on the team with 13 points (4g, 5a). 12 of his 13 points occurred in NEC competitions, including the game-winning goal in a crucial late-season 1-0 win at St. Francis. Quaranta proved to be a tough player between the 18ís and has developed better finishing abilities in the spring and summer.
Holdovers in the midfield include senior Omar Kechrid, juniors Michael Joseph and Andres Parra and sophomore Steve Blakely. Joseph, who played in 11 games last season, may have been the most impressive of that group in the spring, but all will get an ample opportunity to earn playing time. A pair of talented newcomers in junior Marcus Weekes and freshman Steve Goddard also figure to get long looks by the coaching staff as well. Weekes captained national junior college power Yavapai (AZ) College to an NJCAA Division I runner-up finish, while Goddard was a starter on the Colorado Rush Nike Under-18 team.
Sophomore Danny Mongello, a natural midfielder, had an outstanding freshman season for UMBC as a marking back. He recorded four assists, as his ability to push the ball upfield came through, and Coach Caringi is unsure about how he will utilize Mongello this fall.
"There are not many players I can pencil in at the point," said Caringi. "It makes it fun, but it also makes it a bit edgy because you are not sure who is going to be where."
The centerpiece of UMBCís defense, sweeper Andy Wells, was a four-time First Team All NEC defender, and his graduation leaves another big pair of shoes to fill for the coaching staff. The coaching staff may take the same route in replacing Wells, as they have brought in central defender Marcus Gross from England. Gross has excellent size at 6í3" and served as captain of a pair of outstanding under-16 teams. Surrounding Gross will be junior Justin Nall, sophomore Michael Pennachia, and depending on the alignment Caringi chooses, perhaps the aforementioned Mongello. Nall is a fearless player, but his nine games played (seven starts) last season represented a career best after battling knee and ankle injuries in his time at UMBC. Pennachia had an exemplary freshman season, starting all 17 games in the back and displaying speed, skill, and tenacity. Sophomore Matthew Saenz and freshmen Glen Gardner and Matthew McGowan will push the lead group for playing time in the backfield.
No matter what the configuration of the defense, senior captain and goalkeeper Brian Rowland must have his best season in the goal and as a team leader for UMBC to succeed. Rowland has started since his freshman season and is the last holdover to play in the 1999 NCAA game vs. Duke. He has allowed just 50 goals in 47 career games at UMBC.
"Itís his team," said Caringi. "Brian has gotten the least amount of credit of any player that has been here the last four years. Weíre going as far as he leads us, plays in goal, and how he gets players in front of him to respond. I expect him to have a real good year."
The 2002 Retrievers will be a battle-tested team as they try to earn their fifth straight trip to the NEC Tournament, which will be held at UMBC Soccer Stadium in mid-November. After their mid-August trip to Scotland, UMBC opens with three tournaments in the seasons first three weeks, hosting the Kappa Kick Off Classic and Battle of Baltimore Tournament before playing in the Mt. St. Maryís Invitational. Coach Caringiís first win of the season will be number 300 in his 22nd year of his collegiate career. The NEC race figures to be paced by FDU, with many of the leagueís other ten entries hopeful of joining the lead pack.
"For the first time in a long time, new players and young veterans are going to have to contribute," said Caringi. "Everyone will get a chance to play, but the first-year players are going to be thrown in and also get an opportunity."
No matter if eleven starters return, or if Pete Caringi has to rebuild his team, his expectations for success remain constant. "It will be an interesting season, and I have no idea how it will play out. My goal is to be one of the four teams competing for an NEC title, win the NECís, and make the NCAAís. The day I donít set those goals is the day I get out of coaching."