Akin to another Baltimore-area head coach, UMBC men's soccer bench boss Pete Caringi, Jr. has artfully avoided too much talk about his program's most recent success. Both the NFL's Ravens' John Harbaugh and the Caringi will attempt to turn the page on championship seasons as they approach the next quest in 2013.
"For the most part, I have not talked much about last year," Caringi said. "It's a whole new year. We are beginning the journey now. All the teams in our conference and across the country think they have championship caliber teams, as they should."
Retriever fans will have a difficult time forgetting about the 2012 edition of UMBC soccer. The team captured the America East title and advanced to the NCAA Second Round for the second time in three seasons.
Following an uneven non-conference slate, the squad teetered on the brink of disaster when starting America East play at 0-2-1. But the Retrievers would not lose again after October 10, outscoring their final five regular season foes, 18-3, catapulting them to a second-place league finish.
The offensive explosion, keyed by forward Pete Caringi III, put the squad in excellent playoff position, but it was the defense that took the reins from that point. UMBC did not permit a goal in the final five games of the season, pitching shutouts in both America East Tournament contests and NCAA play versus Old Dominion and defending national champion North Carolina.
Caringi suffered a severe ankle sprain early in the America East title game versus New Hampshire, depriving the Retrievers of the hottest offensive player in the nation. He played just a few minutes in that game and the final two games, but the defense won the day and forced shootouts in three consecutive elimination games. UMBC advanced in the first two, as goalkeeper Phil Saunders was brilliant in shoot-outs against New Hampshire and Old Dominion.
Carolina ended UMBC's tremendous run, which was aided by true "Retriever Fever" by fans at home and on the road in tournament play.
"We lost a lot of seniors from 2011 and did not know how good we could be last year," Caringi, Jr. said. "We got on a great run in October and I think all championship teams do that. The character of the group really grew and it is a complement to the leadership of that team. "
The Retrievers return 22 letterwinners and eight starters for 2013, although the team's three losses from the starting 11 will be difficult to replace. Milo Kapor, Dave Vaeth and Liam Paddock formed a terrific trio in the middle of the field, with Kapor (league-leading 13 assists) dictating the offense, Vaeth providing a physical presence as a holding midfielder and Paddock directing the defense in front of Saunders.
Seniors Caringi and Saunders and junior midfielder Mamadou Kansaye will serve as captains in 2013.
Coach Caringi is confident, though, that the 2013 group will respond well to its new leaders and will be energized by an influx of established players to make another serious run at another America East crown.
"The good thing is that Phil and Petey have been here in the good times and they have seen the one down year and I think they've learned from that." Caringi, Jr. said. "Mamadou is a natural leader and has been very successful at the club level as a leader, winning national championships. All three of them have their strengths and we are going to rely on them during crunch time."
Although they have different traits than the 2013 graduates, experienced newcomers Gaeton Caltabiano, Marquez Fernandez and Malcolm Harris are expecting to ease the pain of those losses. Caltabiano, a nimble, skilled offensive threat, led Loyola (Md.) in scoring as a sophomore in 2011. Fernandez played in 15 games and started four over the last two seasons at national power Maryland, while Harris started 18 of 20 contests in his 2012 freshman campaign at Denver. That duo could technically replace Paddock and Vaeth respectively in the UMBC half of the field, but also possess offensive abilities to go forward.
"Marquez, Geaton and Malcolm all possess championship pedigrees," Caringi, Jr. said. "They fit like a glove to our philosophy and are used to winning. That helps everyone."
The younger Caringi had a breakthrough season in 2012 and continued his upward path in the Premier Development League in the summer. Despite playing a handful of minutes in the final three collegiate contests of 2012, the forward registered 14 goals, good for 13th in the nation. The America East Striker of the Year raised his level against even tougher competition this summer, recording a league-best 16 goals and five assists for a total of 37 points in just 12 games played for the PDL's Baltimore Bohemians. He earned the Golden Boot award, in addition to All-Conference honors and was cited as the Young (U-21) Player of the Year.
"So far, he's handled his success amazingly well," said Caringi, Jr. "He puts the team first. He is about winning, not his personal accomplishments. "
Junior Joseph Glos and sophomore Michael Scott could also see action as forwards in 2013.
Caringi's offense prowess should open up space for an improved supporting cast and vise versa. Caltabiano fits in neatly behind Caringi and has displayed a deft touch on set pieces in the preseason. Senior Kadeem Dacres flourished in league play during his first season with the Retrievers, earning a spot on the America East's Second Team and All-Tournament squad. Attacking primarily from the left side, Dacres scored five goals in 2012, three of which were opening goals in shutout victories.
"Gaeton will be big addition and Kadeem was a big reason we went far in playoffs- he is a better player now than he was then," Caringi said. "Pete may not have the same numbers as last year, but I think team could be stronger and more diverse offensively."
Junior right-side midfielders Stephen Ho and Michael DiCesare proved to be a dangerous 1-2 punch in 2012. Ho, a walk-on to the program in 2011, possesses outstanding speed and a high motor, while DiCesare is technically sound and poised to make a breakthrough in 2013.
Kansaye made an immediate impact as a central midfielder when arriving on campus last fall. The N.C. State transfer became more comfortable as the season progressed and finished third on the squad with six assists. He may share set piece and corner kick opportunities with Caltabiano and distributes exceedingly well during the flow of play.
Sophomore Michael Burgos, who scored twice in a convincing 5-1 victory over Boston U. in 2012, and the aforementioned Harris should also get plenty of opportunities to showcase their offensive prowess.
Harris could also be utilized in a wide midfield role, while junior Zach Wenger and sophomore Patrick Pato are candidates for playing time in the middle of the pitch.
Sophomores Zak Wren, Josh LeMaster and Abdel Fonkako and freshman Christian Morales provide outstanding depth in the midfield slots.
Three-fourths of the starting UMBC backfield returns in front of Saunders to give UMBC consistency along the back line. Juniors Oumar Ballo, Jordan Becker and Spencer Williams all exceeded the 1,500-minute mark in 2012 and were unsung heroes on the top defensive unit in America East. The rangy Ballo played all 2,075 minutes in his first Retriever campaign and earned Second Team All-Conference honors. Becker converted from an offensive position as a freshman and patrolled the left side very effectively, while Williams' speed was his calling card on the right side.
Fernandez arrived in the spring of 2013 and was paired with Ballo in the middle of the defense during spring competition. Although the quartet has the primary mission of shutting down the opponents' attack, all four possess the ability to turn defense into offense when opportunities arise.
"The back four did really well in spring," Caringi said. "If they play at that level consistently, we will have a strong defense."
The Retrievers also have good depth on defense, with battle-tested senior Travis Dennis and sophomore Corbin McCarron making seven and four starts respectively in 2012.
Red-shirt freshman Matthew Schwarz and true freshman Greg Hauck are capable defenders who have seen time in fall preseason games.
In goal, Saunders' topsy-turvy career reached a high point in 2012. The Perry Hall product was a full-time starter in 2009, but primarily watched as current assistant coach Dan Louisignau earned America East honors in 2010 and 2011. But Saunders rose to the challenge in his red-shirt junior campaign, pitching ten shutouts and finishing 13th in the nation with a 0.72 goals against average. The 2012 America East Tournament Most Outstanding Player grabbed post-season headlines, making two stops apiece in the shootout victories over UNH and Old Dominion and not allowing a goal in 420 minutes of work.
Saunders was injured in the spring and red-shirt freshman Billy Heavner performed very well in his place. True freshman Phil Breno also possesses excellent size and strength and the coaching staff is very pleased with this trio of netminders.
The Retrievers kick off the season on Friday., Aug. 30 when they welcome Seattle U. to Retriever Soccer Park, the first of an 11-game home schedule in 2013. Local foes Navy, George Washington, George Mason and Delaware all visit Retriever Soccer Park this fall.
"Top-notch programs will come to play in a great environment like we have here," Caringi said. "The schedule is very challenging. The non-conference schedule will set us up well for league play."
The America East title defense commences on Oct. 5 when the Retrievers visit Hartford.
America East coaches were unanimous in selecting UMBC as the league's preseason favorite to capture the league title. Caringi hopes his seniors learned from the letdown after the 2010 title as they attempt to lead the squad to a title run in 2013.
"Sports are full of teams and years that you don't meet your expectations," Caringi said. "Your approach has to be the same --you take every day as a new day and a learning experience. We are trying to learn from the past.
"We have a number of players that have won championships and the expectations they have are higher. I like the chemistry and family-atmosphere we have -- it should make for another exciting run."