Something stinks between the posts for the Cornell men’s soccer team this year. Fortunately, it’s not the play of its starting freshman goalkeeper, Steve Lesser, who has shown skill and composure beyond his years so far this season. It’s his gloves which stink, since the closest they ever come to being washed is a rainy day at practice.
“It’s just something I don’t do,” Lesser said. “They get pretty smelly.”
Besides, it’s nice to have a little breathing room when you’re going up against opposing forwards for a ball into the box, as Lesser has done successfully numerous times for the Red.
“I just give him a little whiff of the glove and he backs away giving me room to get that cross,” Lesser said.
Lesser has quickly earned the respect of his teammates, racking up 20 saves in his first three starts for Cornell, including a brilliant one-handed block to protect the Red’s 1-1 tie against Colgate last Saturday.
“We’ve been very pleased,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “I can’t say I’ve been surprised because we knew he’d be a very good goalkeeper, but he’s stepped in and it’s almost like he’s a seasoned veteran when he’s in goal for us.”
With the graduation of last year’s starting keeper, David Mahoney ’05, Lesser came into preseason last summer knowing he had a chance to be starting lineup for the Red. He faced stiff competition from fellow freshmen Matthew Bullough and Luca Cerretani. Despite an injured hamstring, Lesser proved himself worthy of the starting job.
“The competition was there. Matt and Luca are both great goalkeepers,” Lesser said. “They breathed down my throat at practice everyday. I just buckled down and tried to do the best I could.”
Lesser’s introduction to college soccer got off to quick start in Cornell’s opening game against Lehigh on Sept. 2. Within the first five minutes of the game, the Mountain Hawks had already fired off three shots on the new keeper, but Lesser was equal to the task every time.
“That really built my confidence mentally,” Lesser said. “I think the team didn’t know what to expect. I’m a starting freshman goalkeeper and they didn’t really know how I could really play. I just went in fearless.”
Lesser’s performance has continued to improve in successive games against Syracuse and Colgate. It seems with every additional match, Lesser’s confidence grows, making him quicker off his line, stronger in the air and more of a presence in the back for the Red.
Lesser’s transition to college soccer has been helped along by his valuable experiences with one the top club teams in the nation, Sereno, back in his home state of Arizona. Leading Sereno to the 2005 Arizona State Championship, Lesser hopes to have a similar impact with the Red. Scales is pleased with Lesser’s continued development and progress.
“We’re very happy to have him here. He’s a kid that’s quietly confident. He’s got a terrific work rate and he’s demanding of himself when he has to be,” Scales said. “We threw him into the mix right away. He’s going to have his good games and his bad games, but he’s guy that we feel is only going to get better with time.”
Tacked to the walls inside team’s locker room, there’s a sign that characterizes Lesser’s play in the net.
“It says ‘Win your individual battles,'” Lesser said. “My goal for the game is to get a shutout. I’m not being selfish but that’s my job on the field and if I can do that, it will guarantee at least a tie or win for us.”
With that mentality and the work ethic to back up his natural talents, the rancid odor of Lesser’s gloves may soon be overpowered by the sweet smell of success.
Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Staff Writer