The coming of the dreaded Ithaca winter signals more than just the last chance to see the Sun for most Cornell students, it represents the end of the fall sports season. For most teams — especially those that are not playoff-bound — it also provides the perfect opportunity to look down the road and analyze the future of the program.
Fortunately for the men’s soccer team, which has asked underclassmen to play big roles throughout each of the last two seasons, it can boast the brightest future it has had in recent memory.
Although the Red (3-8-3, 2-3-1 Ivy) has accumulated a record of 12-41-8 over the last four years heading into this weekend’s season-finale against Dartmouth, the program has shown vast improvement of late and appears poised — led by a young and talented nucleus — to make some noise in the perpetually competitive Ivy League in the near future.
[img_assist|nid=19362|title=Mr. Clutch|desc=Freshman Matt Bouraee (12) scored the game-winning goal against Princeton last Saturday. (Kuan-Wei Chen / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=left|width=77|height=100]
“We have the talent in place to compete for an Ivy League championship,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “We have made a lot of progress, but the most important thing is that the young guys stick together and keep improving.”
While the deep and talented sophomore class, which has been the foundation of the team for the past two years, is often considered to be the group most directly responsible for Cornell’s high hopes, this year’s seven-man freshman class will also play a major factor in the team’s recent upward trend.
The class includes forwards Matt Bouraee and James Harris, midfielders J.J. Bain and Michael Fowler, backs Matt Devitt and Kevin Gibson and goalkeeper Peter Franz. What the group lacks in depth, however, it certainly makes up for in overall talent level, as several freshman players — despite a crowded Red lineup — have already stepped into big roles during the 2006 campaign.
“They are certainly a group who will be good players for us,” Scales said. “But we can be a lot more patient with them than last year’s freshman because we didn’t need them to make as much of an impact this season.”
The player who has the best chance at becoming an Ivy League star, according to Scales, is dynamic forward Matt Bouraee. Bouraee has already emerged as one of the team’s most consistent offensive threats and currently leads the team in goals (2) and points (4), despite playing in only nine of the team’s 14 games.
Bouraee has shown himself to be a dangerous goal-scorer with good foot-skills who has a knack for finding the ball and getting in the middle of the action. His intangible qualities prompted Scales to compare Bouraee to former Cornell great Eric Kusseluk, a first team All-Ivy pick who led Cornell to an Ivy League championship in 1995.
“There are some instincts you have to have as a forward — Bouaree has them,” Scales said. “He is a lot like Eric in that he is tough to knock off the ball, courageous and has a great scorer’s mentality: if he’s not scoring goals, he’s not happy.”
Midfielder J.J. Bain has also shown that he has the talent to make an impact for Cornell for years to come. Bain has played in 12 games for the Red this year, the most of any freshman, and scored his first goal in a 1-1 draw against then No. 19 Boston University.
“J.J is a playmaking midfielder with great feet and is gifted with the ball,” Scales said. “As with all freshmen, he needs to learn how to read the game faster.”
Another Red youngster with great promise is back Matt Devitt, who has tallied one assist on the year while playing in eight games — starting in three of them. He will figure prominently in filling in for senior co-captain Dan Marks, who will vacate the backfield after the final home game of his Cornell career this Saturday.
Although the remaining four members of the freshman class — Harris, Fowler, Gibson and Franz — have yet to log playing time for the Red, Scales is confident that their time will come.
“The ball is really in their court,” he said. “Either they have the will power to succeed or not; we just won’t know that until we see them again next year.”