On Nov. 16, the men’s United Club Soccer team, along with 24 other teams across the country, traveled to Tempe, Ariz., to compete for the NIRSA Collegiate Soccer Sports Club men’s championship title.
It was the team’s fourth appearance in the last five years, and after a surprising first-place finish at last month’s Region I club soccer tournament, expectations were understandably high going into nationals. The team’s performance, however, was a different story.
The United had a less than spectacular showing, getting eliminated in the first-round after a 1-0 loss to Ohio and a scoreless draw against the Texas Tech team. The team then went on to lose, 2-0, in their first consolation bracket match to a Brown team that the United had previously defeated by two goals earlier in the season.
As one would expect, the team was thoroughly disappointed with its poor performance. Especially upsetting was that the team squandered numerous scoring opportunities against Ohio in a game where United needed just a tie to move unto the second round. Sophomore newcomer and leading goal-scorer Adeboye Ajayi, who had scored three goals in the last three games heading into the tournament, felt the team clearly underachieved.
“We should have won those first two games,” he said. “We had plenty of chances, but we just could not score.”
Senior goalkeeper Drew Lessard was one of the lone bright spots for the United, as he allowed just one goal in group play, a score that came off a defensive miscue.
“Drew played very well,” said senior captain Jeff Stambough. “He put us in a good position to win, and we just could not capitalize on our offensive opportunities.”
The fact that this was United’s fourth nationals appearance in the last five years makes the team’s early exit all the more unexpected and disheartening.
“We were definitely expecting a far better performance than we what we showed,” Ajayi said. “We were definitely way better than the scored indicated.”
On the flip side, however, it is possible that this experience, coupled with the immense amount of returning talent, will only make the team stronger come next season. Among next season’s returners are senior George Scopelianos and juniors Jon Leung, Steve Fenty, Noah Mencia and Pete Marler.
The team’s most important returner, however, might be Ajayi, who led the team with nine goals this season, five more than anyone else on the team.
“Ajayi possesses great speed, good timing, and an excellent shot control,” Stambough said. “He has definitely been a very welcome addition to this team and a huge difference-maker.”
Accomplishing the goal of winning nationals next season will have to be a team effort. Most importantly, United will have to find a goalkeeper to replace Lessard, who, for the past two years has been arguably the best goalkeeper in the region.
Nevertheless, the team remains optimistic about its chances of being successful next year.
“We have a good core squad for next fall,” Ajayi said. “We have an experienced and determined young group of individuals on this team and come next year, I believe the sky will be the limit for this team.”