2001 Men's Soccer Outlook
The last two seasons have been like one big thrill ride for UMBC Soccer. Pete Caringiís forces racked up 34 victories (tied for the sixth most in the country in that span), earned two trips to the NEC title game, one visit to the NCAA Championships and spent several weeks during both seasons in the national rankings.
But, with the loss of 11 letterwinners and 6 starters, has that ride come to an end?
Caringi is very aware of the rise and natural fall-off of many teams in UMBCís situation. But he is reluctant to term the 2001 season a "rebuilding year."
"We have a very good group of returning upperclassmen," said the winningest coach (120-69-1, 10 years) in UMBC history. "They have been a integral part of the program the last three years, and havenít gotten the credit that some of last yearís seniors did. That, and the way last season ended, are motivating forces for this season."
For many teams, last yearís Retriever season would have been considered a smashing success. UMBC went 7-1 in September, including a 2-0 win at Maryland and climbed to #14 in the NSCAA poll. But UMBC gave up late leads in back-to-back NEC losses to Quinnipiac and FDU and had to defeat Mt. St. Maryís in overtime to just qualify for the NEC Tournament. After a 2-0 semi-final victory over St. Francis (NY), UMBC was blanked for the lone time in 2000 in a 2-0 setback in the finals to FDU.
"The first thing I remember about last season is the last game and how disappointing it was to everyone involved with the program because we had so much success with that group of players," said Caringi. "But we overlooked some league games and expended a lot of energy just to make the tournament. The team that lost in the finals was not the same team that we had in September.
"But my lasting memory will be how special that two-year period was, proving time and time again that UMBC soccer was no fluke."
Several key players to return for the Retrievers, and the coaching staff has brought in a dozen newcomers, a group that Caringi feels will maintain the level of excellence that the program has achieved. But whereas the lineup card was pretty easy to fill out the last two seasons, Caringi could find himself staring at a few blanks spaces as UMBC opens its season on August 31 vs. Iona in the Kappa Kick Off Classic.
"Iíll have to make more decisions than I have in a long time," said Caringi. "Iíll approach the pre-season the way I always have, but may have to adjust a week in. I have no idea who will be in the starting lineup on opening day."
The guarantees offensively are that seniors Ricky Brown, P.J. Wakefield, and James Hamilton will play key roles. Brown started his first season at UMBC brilliantly; earning MVP honors at last seasonís Kappa Kick Off Classic with game-winning goals in each game. But the speedy forward suffered a knee injury vs. Maryland and missed the next eight games. He returned to score a hat trick vs. Robert Morris and Coach Caringi expects Brown to have a "big year" in 2001.
Wakefield, a key but part-time player in 1998 and 1999, was a consistent force in starting all 18 games in 2000. He scored six goals and added 8 assists and earned First Team All NEC honors with 15 points in 10 NEC games. Both Brown and Wakefield spent significant time at forward last season, and could reprise those roles this season, but Caringi suspects the team may be better off if both players wind up in the midfield.
Hamilton will definitely be in the center of the action as the skilled midfielder attempts to move up UMBCís all-time assists chart. The left-footed Englishman has 18 career help-outs, and his gives the Retrievers a dangerous weapon on free and corner kick opportunities.
In the midfield, junior Alex Wilmot and sophomores Brandon Quaranta and Michael Joseph will be given the opportunity to step to the forefront after playing behind upperclassmen last season. Quaranta earned the teamís Ed Veit Award as its top freshman last season, as he played in 16 of 18 games in the fall and was even stronger during spring workouts.
Coach Caringi will not hesitate to thrust several of his freshmen into key offensive roles if warranted. Two local products, George Bakoulas and Derek McElligott were outstanding goal scorers during their prep careers, and the Retriever mentor is also very excited about the potential of Ontario native Franco Del Priore.
"We lost one of the greatest strikers (Giuliano Celenza) weíve had in this area, but we have brought in several quality players," said Caringi. "We donít have that "go-to" guy that weíve had in the past, but I am excited about the potential of our strikers."
Freshmen Danny Mongello, and Dale Rothe will also compete for time in the midfield.
UMBC lost the services of backs Billy Nelson and Louie Karko to graduation and both are slated to play professionally this fall, so there will be some new faces protecting the UMBC net this fall. The lone returner to the back line is senior sweeper Andy Wells. Wells is a three-time First Team NEC honoree, and the Englishman earned Third Team All South Atlantic honors last season. He is as composed a player, as a coach could want in the back, yet is an aggressive fullback (11 career goal) who will attack the net on set plays.
Senior David Jones and red-shirt sophomore Justin Nall saw a great deal of duty in the spring and the coaching staff was generally pleased with the team defense during that time. But those two will be challenged by freshmen Michael Pennacchia, Matthew Saenz, and Michael Williams as Caringi debates a three-man or a four-man backfield.
The combination and leadership of Wells and the goalkeeper duo of senior Tom Wunk and junior Brian Rowland should ease some of Caringiís fears of a young defense. An outstanding athlete, Rowland is the expected starter, as he recorded a school record eight shutouts in 2000 and has a career record of 20-5-1. But Wunk is a proven commodity as well, with just 29 goals allowed in 28 career starts.
"I am so fortunate to have Tom Wunk and Brian Rowland, two first-string goalkeepers," said Caringi. "I canít say enough about Tomís leadership, Brianís work rate, and how well they work together. I am very comfortable with either player back there."
UMBC should be a battle-tested team before they enter conference play, with non-league games vs. Howard, Wisconsin, Marshall, and perhaps a tournament game vs.William & Mary. Coach Caringi feels that FDU, Quinnipiac, and St. Francis (NY) should remain strong, but that there isnít a team in the league that canít win on any given day.
"This year will be more of a challenge from a coaching standpoint," said Caringi. "I have a pretty good idea of what the upperclassmen will do, but I know the lineup in October will be different from the one we start the season with."
Despite a fair amount of uncertainty, Coach Caringi still has his sights set on playing deep into November. "My expectations have never changed from the day I got here. Every year I coach to get to the NCAA Tournament. In some respects, weíre rebuilding, in others, weíre not. Our seniors have been to tournament and are hungry to get back. Realistically, weíll have to bring this team along more slowly, but I think we can be a very good team by tournament time."