Men's Soccer Outlook
Observers of America East men’s soccer might expect upstart UMBC to enter the 2004 season with a bit of “attitude.”
Lightly-regarded entering the league in 2003, the Retrievers did not lose a conference game until the regular season finale. At that point, they had already locked up the tournament’s top seed. Despite a well-played contest in the semi-finals, UMBC lost a 1-0 decision to Northeastern and little time passed until the players were looking ahead to the 2004 campaign. But Head Coach Pete Caringi continues to preach the underdog mentality to his team as they face their most difficult schedule in the program’s 19-year Division I history.
“Even if we are regarded differently this season, I don’t think we’ll change our approach,” said the Retriever mentor, entering his 14th season at the helm. “We were new to all the teams last year, so we may have surprised some people. That won’t happen this season, but we still must take the approach that we are the still the hunters, not the hunted.”
The Retrievers got out of the gate quickly in 2003, winning a pair of tournaments, and gaining confidence in a well-played 2-0 setback at #4 Old Dominion. UMBC tied three of its first four America East games, but then won four straight, allowing just one goal in those victories. But, after scoring at least two goals in six of nine league games, UMBC could not dent the net in their first America East Tournament game vs. the Huskies.
“We were disappointed about not winning the tournament, but I was very proud of our winning the regular season title.” said Caringi, who earned his 150th (150-83-21) Retriever victory last season. “We did not take winning that title for granted.”
On paper, it would appear that the 2004 Retrievers should continue their six year period of dominance. In that span, UMBC has won or shared three regular season league titles, made one NCAA appearance, and compiled a record of 35-8-6 against conference competition. Only one player, 2003 team assists leader Michael Joseph, who started more than ten games last season does not return to the squad for the ’04 season.
Offensively, Coach Caringi hopes that the team will feature a balanced attack. He is not complaining about the exploits of senior forward Derek McElligott (15g, 2a, ’03) but knows the UMBC offense cannot continue to be a one-man show. McElligott has scored over 44% of UMBC’s goals over the past two years and is approaching some glamorous career records, but he certainly will be a marked man in 2004.
“I believe that teams that have a variety of players that can score goals are the most successful,” said Caringi. “Our 1999 NCAA team that had multiple goal scorers is a perfect example. Derek McElligott has performed at an All America level and I believe he is one of the top strikers in the country. But to reach our goals, other players, especially our midfielders, must step up and become consistent goal-scoring threats.”
McElligott finished seventh in the nation in goal scoring last season, and scored eight of UMBC’s first eleven America East goals. His goals can be electric or workmanlike, but McElligott’s best characteristic may be his consistency. Over the past two years, he has never gone more than two games without hitting the net.
Senior George Bakoulas (4g, 2a, ’03) and junior Powell Cucchiella will vie for the position alongside McElligott up front. Bakoulas, inserted as a starter midway through the season, did become a reliable partner for McElligott during the month of October, when he scored all ten of his points in a 5-0-1 stretch for UMBC. His ability to hold the ball and a heavy shot created some good chances for UMBC last season. But he will be challenged by Cucchiella, who had an excellent spring and has a good history of scoring goals. Junior Andres Serafini provides needed depth for UMBC, while freshman Matt Curran is highly regarded and could see action in his freshman campaign.
The midfield may be the most unsettled area on the field for UMBC, as they must replace 2003 starters Michael Joseph and late-season stalwart Marco Angelini. Two players who have established themselves are senior Danny Mongello (5a, ’03) and sophomore Kevin Mezzadra (3g, 1a, ’03). Mongello, a First Team All Conference selection, is entrenched at the right outside midfield slot, where his tremendous speed and improving playmaking abilities were on display in 2003. Mezzadra, a prolific striker in high school, took some time to adjust as a center midfielder in his freshman campaign. The America East All Rookie team member is expected to take on even more of an offensive role this season.
A host of veterans and newcomers will compete for the slots alongside Mongello and Mezzadra. Junior Eric Mahon made six starts on the left side last year, and sophomore speedster David Feazell (1g, 2a, ’03) will be moved from striker to midfield to try to capture the position. Freshman Ryan Callinan could also factor into the equation. In the middle, junior Steve Goddard and sophomore transfer Bobby Woods both have collegiate experience. Woods started 19 of 22 games and was selected as the Top Newcomer at Bowling Green in 2003. Sophomore Junis Alico and freshman Rocky Bowers round out UMBC’s midfield candidates.
Although Coach Caringi built his reputation as an attacking-style of coach, it has been UMBC’s defense which has been a dominant unit since 1999 and the 2004 squad looks to continue that trend. UMBC has allowed less than a goal per game (92 goals allowed in 96 games) and averaged 7.3 shutouts per season in the past six years. Senior Mike Pennacchia, and juniors Marcus Gross and Matt McGowan will make up three-fourths of the defense. Pennacchia, one of the team’s captains, has not missed a start in three seasons and can either play wide or in the middle. Gross, a First Team All America East selection last year, was solid as a freshman, but improved mobility made him dominant in 2003. UMBC’s central defender is difficult to contend with in the air in his own half of the field and can lend offensive punch as proven by back-to-back “first-goals” in wins over Stony Brook and New Hampshire last season. The underrated McGowan is extremely fast on his wing position, and is very adept at pushing the ball out of the back and into an attacking position.
Juniors Jim Fendryk, a former starter at Towson, transfer Jim DiPino and Glen Gardner are all experienced players who will battle for time. Freshman Bryan Moffa may push these players for a starting position, while freshman Andrew Kordula should be a factor in the very near future.
In goal, junior Andy Marchica had a solid first year as a starter in the nets. Marchica recorded eight shutouts, while playing every minute of every game last season. He is a good athlete in the net and figures to be more comfortable with his defenders in his second full year as a starter. Freshman Josh Osit has excellent size and ability and is expected to push Marchica from the outset.
The Retrievers face national caliber opponents in games at N.C. State and Virginia, and a home contest vs. Old Dominion in September. Add those teams to tough local rivals Towson, (possible opponent in adidas Kick Off Tournament) Mt. St. Mary’s, George Washington, Navy, and Howard, and there does not appear to be a single break on the slate in 2004.
“I believe that this team is ready for the challenge of this tough schedule,” said Caringi. “They want to see how they stack up against some of the strongest teams in the country, but they also have a tremendous desire to have success in November.”
Getting deep into November will require winning some battles in October, as they face a tough two-week stretch in the second half of the month. UMBC was just 1-2-2 vs. Maine, Binghamton, Northeastern and Boston University last season. Coach Caringi would not be surprised if the America East sent more than one representative to the NCAA Tournament in the very near future. “The America East Conference is very good, and the league has added coaches with outstanding credentials. I expect the league to get stronger, and we will not take any team for granted.
“I think the chemistry on this team will be very good, but, like all teams at this time, we have some questions to answer before the season opener. We always strive for championships at UMBC and this year is no different. But the players realize that the road to get there will be tougher than before.”