September 4, 2009

M. Soccer Heads to Syracuse for Season Opener

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In what men’s soccer head coach Jaro Zawislan deemed “an irony of fate,” the Red will open its 2009 season tomorrow night against his former team and local Cornell rival –– Syracuse.
“It wasn’t planned,” Zawislan said with a laugh. “It was prearranged many years ago that this game was going to be [the] opening game for Cornell men’s soccer, and for Syracuse, the home opener.”
Zawislan spent the past seven seasons as an assistant coach for the Orange before taking over as Bryan Scales’ replacement in April. Since then, he has been working to change the culture of the team and learn as much about the players as possible, while simultaneously organizing intense training sessions in order to maintain a competitive environment.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s matchup, Zawislan emphasized the importance of his players and coaching staff staying focused on themselves and not becoming too preoccupied with their opponent.
“We need to make sure that we are organized … and ready to play and execute on that given day,” he said.
That’s not to say Zawislan is disregarding Syracuse by any stretch of the imagination. He went on to describe the Orange as a “well-balanced team … [with] a very large group of experienced players who went through a couple seasons of tough schedules in the Big East conference [which is] one of the premier men’s soccer conferences in the country.”
Much like the Orange, which added 15 players to its roster this season, the Red also welcomed an uncharacteristically-large incoming class –– one comprised of 10 freshmen, a junior transfer from Bulgaria, a sophomore walk-on from the track team and another sophomore transfer.
According to senior forward Matt Bouraee, the Red’s veterans have been doing their part to help ease the newcomers’ transition to the team and college life in general, whether by giving advice on classes or assisting with homework.
Zawislan maintains that all of the new recruits have a chance to make an immediate impact.
“As a coach, my philosophy is to play the best players and the best goalkeeper on the field, with no regard for what class they are part of. … What matters is their performance during the training sessions … and then during the season,” he said. “There’s no preconceived ideas or pecking order where the upperclassmen have a secured place. … On the other hand, experience also counts for something … but experience alone is not going to keep or put somebody on the field. It’s a combination of a lot of components.”
Zawislan has yet to name the team captains –– a task he refers to as a “work in progress,” as it requires first ascertaining the team dynamics and chemistry, along with the dynamic between individual players.
“I think last season we had the notion of excitement going into the season, with a lot of seniors, a lot of experience,” said Bouraee, who led the Red in scoring with six points on three goals in 2008. “I actually thought that we were going to have a good season last year.”
Needless to say, last season did not pan out the way Bouraee and his teammates envisioned, as Cornell managed only one win in 16 games en route to a last-place finish in the Ivy League.
“This season I feel … is more of a ‘prove ourselves’-type season,” Bouraee added. “We are excited and we have a lot to prove. We’re going in with the underdog mentality. Thus far this preseason we look good –– I’m excited to see what we can do together.”
In evaluating Syracuse, Bouraee said “I know that they’re a good team from previous experience. I think that they are the perfect season opener for our team. It will be tough playing in front of a full crowd at their home. … [but] I think [our] team will be able to focus on the game, concentrate, slow the game down and put some passes together. I think that we have a good opportunity to win it, and it would be the absolute perfect beginning to the season.”
Syracuse, on the other hand, already opened its season on Tuesday against Binghamton, ultimately falling to the host Bearcats by a score of 3-2 and snapping its nation-leading 20-game non-conference unbeaten streak. The loss was the Orange’s first non-conference defeat since Oct. 12, 2005, against Oneonta. Syracuse posted a 8-6-3 overall record in 2008 –– its first winning season since 1999 –– and was on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament. [img_assist|nid=37815|title=High stepping|desc=Sophomore forward Pedro Pereira (21) started seven games as a freshman, and will be a crucial part of the Red’s roster in 2009.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=462]
“[Syracuse] is a special place to come back [to],” Zawislan said. “[Head coach Dean Foti] and I have been not only great colleagues but great friends … but on that given day I know we are both professionals, and we are going to go after the best result for each respective program.
“There’s that saying that your opponent plays only as good as you allow him to, and the other way is also true. … I just expect our guys to come out and be ready to play and execute the game plan. We do that, we will have a chance to get a positive result out of the game, and that’s what we’re going to go after. There’s no reason to play sports if you don’t expect that.”