September 3, 2008

Experience, Health Will Be Keys to M. Soccer’s Season

Print More

It is almost surprising AARP hasn’t tracked down the men’s soccer team to offer its players enticing discounts and a monthly magazine.
“We’re like geriatrics here to some extent,” head coach Bryan Scales said with a sarcastic laugh.
Injuries, an Ivy League institution and 11 seniors will do that to you — but mostly injuries. After starting off last season with a bang, the Red quietly limped to the finish line with athletic tape wrapped around anything that would hold it. And while an offseason promises new hope and a new season, it can’t promise to fix all those ACLs and fractures.
“We have to hope we stay healthy,” Scales said. “We have to manage the players the right way. We’ve got to physically be careful about when and where we risk certain guys if they’re carrying injuries.”
For Scales, that management has already started. With the Ivy League allowing two weeks of preseason practice, as opposed to the eight to 10 days allowed in the past, Scales has already been able to give his guys a day off here and there. For the oft-injured players, they are hoping that picking and choosing where and when to physically push themselves will end with an Ivy championship and an NCAA tournament berth.
But with road matchups against Harvard and Brown, perennial Ivy frontrunners, and a tough non-conference schedule, maybe age isn’t such a bad thing.
“A lot of college soccer isn’t how skilled you are or how hard you work, it has a lot to do with experience,” said junior forward Matt Bouraee. “You have to be experienced to handle the academic portion of an Ivy League school.”
With a senior class of 11 members, one can’t help but notice its effect on the squad.
“It does give us good leadership, good balance and a maturity level especially when you get into the Ivy League in October,” Scales said. “It allows us to not really get too high or too low when things go well or things don’t go too well. They know what the landscape is like in the Ivy League.”
Experience has also allowed Bouraee to develop into an All-Ivy caliber threat on offense after only getting playing time in about half of the games two years ago. He led the squad in points last year with nine goals and four assists and readily acknowledges that he was not capable of handling the rigor of class work and soccer his freshman year.
“[I] really wasn’t prepared for an Ivy League class, or five classes at once,” he said. “I didn’t know how to study for a test of that difficulty. It really took a lot off my soccer performance.”
But, as Scales is quick to point out, “It’s not like because we have 11 seniors automatically we’re going to be a top team. We’re really going to have to work at our game to be good.”
Experience won’t fill the hole left by Kyle Lynch ’08, who anchored a quality defensive line for four years. It won’t put the ball in back of the net the way Brian Kuritzky’s ’08 foot did and it certainly won’t handle the ball at midfield like Aaron Vieira ’08.
The players themselves will have to do that. Senior Joe Yonga, who had been the yin to Lynch’s yang in past seasons, will know take over as the leader of the defense. Scales said Yonga has been more vocal in practice so far.
“[Kyle and Joe are] different personalities,” Scales said. “Kyle is a fiery red-headed hit man. Joe is a little more technical, a little more athletic so they complemented each other back there well. Our job is to really find someone who can complement Joe.”
It’s hard to know how personalities will mesh, but Scales thinks he might have a good match in freshman Kyle Parsons. The real key, according to Scales, to improving a defense that surrendered 28 goals last year after allowing a mere 16 the year before is good goaltending.
Last year, then-junior Luca Cerretani’s solid play made his 1.67 goals against average seemed inflated. Then-freshman Scott Brody came on at the end of the season to collect two wins in two starts, though. The addition of freshman Anthony Ponikvar and the return of senior Steve Lesser from injury have made the goalie competition fierce thus far. Scales has not even named a Game 1 starter for this weekend, yet.
“All four of those guys have been pushing each other really well,” he said. “This is going to be a game-by-game decision as to who’s the hot goalkeeper. Trying to figure that out while still giving the goalies confidence and not hooking them after one or two mistakes.”
Meanwhile, Bouraee will be asked to fill some of the offensive void left by Kuritzky’s departure.
“Kuritzky and I teamed up well last year,” Bouraee said. “It’s going to be different on the field without him behind me.”
Bouraee realized almost instantly the new responsibility he would have, though.
“I took Thanksgiving break off and haven’t really taken a day off since,” he said.
Wanting to build on his breakout season, Bouraee spent the summer playing for the New York Redbulls youth squad. He said the professional atmosphere helped him grow mentally. When he was invited to travel to Portugal to face two professional squads though, Bouraee was forced to see the holes in his game. Against the second division team, Bouraee held his own.
“I didn’t lose the ball,” he said. “I blended in with the crowd. I didn’t really stand out either.”
Against Victoria De Setubal — a UEFA Cup qualifier and one of the best teams in the world — Bouraee told a different tale.
“I felt like a fifth grader playing with high schoolers,” he said, laughing. “I mean, these guys probably make six million a year and there I was on the field trying to compete.”
Bouraee thinks he developed mentally from the experience, learning what it is like to compete at the highest level and what parts of his game can be improved.
So after a trip across the ocean, it comes back to experience.
Experience, something the attackers have been getting more of since Scales decided to change around how he split the squad up during practice. Scales, a defender in college, takes the midfielders and defenders with him to work on possession drills. Meanwhile, the forwards go with assistant coach Joe Schneck, a forward in college, and “just shoot the whole practice really,” Bouraee said. Bouraee thinks this will focus the attack a bit more on finishing, something it has struggled with in the past few years.
“Once we get that one opportunity in a game, hopefully we can finish that,” he said.
With enough experience, they might just be able to.