Men's Soccer Outlook
Will Head Men's Soccer Coach Pete Caringi head into the 2003 season with a completely different mindset than he did last season?
In 2002, 19 of UMBC's 25 players had one year or less of experience heading into the season, but the Retriever mentor knew the landscape of Northeast Conference soccer. This fall, the return of 9 starters and 19 letterwinners give Caringi intimate knowledge of his personnel, but UMBC's entrance in the AMERICA EAST CONFERENCE will be marked by uncertainty every step of the way.
Different mindset? Of course... not
"It is sort of strange," said Caringi. "I am very excited about the season because we have a lot of returning players and there will be new challenges in THE AMERICA EAST. But, to be honest, I am very unfamiliar with the programs in the league, which does create some anxiety. But, that being said, we'll just prepare as we would for any other season and hopefully, have the same degree of success."
It would be tough to imagine UMBC reprising its remarkable five-year run through the vastly underrated NEC. In five years, the Retrievers won two regular season titles (1999, 2002) , earned a 1999 appearance in the NCAA Championship with the nation's top winning percentage, posted national rankings in both 1999 and 2000, and completed their reign at 35-9-5 in league play. Having lost six professional draftees in two years heading into the 2002 season, UMBC was lightly regarded, but tied for the league's regular season title with an 8-1-1 conference record (11-6-3 overall) and had to be ousted in penalty kicks to be denied another trip to the NCAA's.
"Last season was one of the most satisfying that I have had in coaching," stated the 13-year Retriever mentor. "We took some lumps early on when we tested out some different things, but we got on a nice little roll."
Surprisingly, that roll was keyed by a Retriever defense that set a school record with 12 shutouts, finishing 3rd in the nation in shutout percentage (12 in 20 games) and 14th in goals against average (0.77). The entire starting fullback group of senior captain Justin Nall, juniors Danny Mongello and Michael Pennacchia and sophomore Marcus Gross returns intact this season. Nall put his past injuries in the past in 2002, and earned First Team All League honors, as the Midlothian, Virginia native combined with new sweeper Gross and the versatile Pennachia to keep UMBC's box clear and allowing an average of less than ten shots per game.
In addition, sophomores Eric Mahon, Glenn Gardner, and Jim Fendryk, the latter a mid-year transfer from Towson, each started games last season, and provide Caringi with outstanding depth and versatility in the back. Sophomore Vince Dalfonzo, who did not see action in 2002, is also a fullback candidate for the Retrievers.
The only relative newcomer to the group will be goalkeeper Andy Marchica. A red-shirt sophomore, Marchica backed up All American Brian Rowland last year, and recorded a shutout in his lone start of the season. But, Coach Caringi has a tremendous amount of confidence in his new netminder.
"I gained a lot of confidence in him in the summer of 2002 when his under-23 team won the national championship" said Caringi. "He has picked up the excellent training habits of a Brian Rowland and does an excellent job of reading the game and controlling the box."
East Carolina transfer Corey Shea will back up Marchica in the net.
In the midfield, the Retrievers have the ability to augment their defense with sound two-way midfielders or press the attack when necessary. Although midfield roles are the least defined of UMBC's position players, seniors Michael Joseph and Brandon Quaranta would appear to figure somewhere in the mix. Joseph, who occupied a wing position, was named UMBC's "Most Improved Player" last season. He was just one of three Retrievers to start all 20 games ended up second on the squad in scoring with 4 goals and 4 assists. Quaranta was moved up front midway through last season and his excellent ballhandling skills and timely goals gave the squad a lift. The Baltimore native ended the season with 4 goals and 3 helpers, but is expected to patrol the midfield in his final campaign. Classmate Marcus Weekes appeared in 11 games in his first Division I season in 2002 and demonstrated better aggressiveness in the spring as he will attempt to win a midfield spot this fall. Veteran senior halfback Andres Parra provides depth and experience to the midfield unit.
Junior Steve Blakely, a former walk-on, did earn a significant role last season, starting 11 games and providing the ability to push the pace both offensively (2g, 1a) and defensively. Blakely often rotated with Mahon, who is more of a physical presence on defense or in the midfield.
Sophomore Matt McGowan emerged last season to lead the team with six assists, five of which occurred in a 4-1-1 stretch in league play. The Nottingham, England native has a tremendous work rate, and could see time at marking back, giving the aforementioned Mongello a chance to display his speed and attacking abilities on the flank. Classmate Steve Goddard may emerge as a center halfback candidate this season after only six outings in his freshman campaign.
Highly-touted freshman Kevin Mezzadra is a wild card with the 2003 Retrievers. The all-time leading goal scorer in Loyola-Blakefield's rich soccer history could see action as a central midfielder or up front where he is very accustomed to finding the net.
On the front line, Coach Caringi is confident that UMBC will increase its scoring output from a year ago. The Retrievers' proven commodity at forward is junior Derek McElligott, who is already tenth on UMBC's all-time goals list with 24. A two-time First Team All League player, McElligott has tallied 12 times in each of his first two seasons and notched six game-winning goals in 2002. He possesses all of the characteristics of a first-rate striker--good speed, shoots on target more often than not, and is very efficient in the air.
Several players are vying for the spot opposite McElligott. The leading candidate appears to be senior Marco Angelini, who started 11 contests a year ago. Quick and compact, Angelini started strongly in his first Retriever season last fall, scoring five points in the first three games. Fatigue and frustration marked the latter half of his campaign, but the former Essex CC All American appeared to revert to his fine form in an impressive spring.
Junior George Bakoulas, sophomores Powell Cucchiella and Andres Serafini and freshman David Feazell are poised to earn minutes up front as well. Bakoulas is hoping to regain the form that led him to a 3-goal, 2-assist freshman campaign. Cucchiella replaced an injured McElligott in the starting lineup in the early part of the season and displayed some good overall skills before his minutes became more limited as the season progressed. Serafini gives UMBC an element of speed up front, while Coach Caringi has been very impressed with Feazell, another speed merchant, during his most recent high school and club seasons.
UMBC will face several tough regional tests in the non-conference schedule before opening their first AMERICA EAST slate on September 28 at Northeastern. The Retrievers will face two NCAA Tournament teams, George Washington and Old Dominion and possibly another in Loyola, and take on tough regional foes in Towson, Delaware, Howard and Mt. St. Mary's.
Despite the uncertainty about their new foes, the 2003 team appears ready to take on the challenge. "This team has a quiet confidence about themselves," said Caringi. "They realized that we had a good year last season and that with so many returning players, they expect to maintain the level of play that we have built up over the last five years.
"I guess I am approaching this year like I would any other," concluded Caringi. "Our goal is to make the conference tournament and hope to be playing our best soccer at that time. If the players accept their roles, I am confident we can maintain our level of play against any competition."