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Cornell men’s soccer will look to rebound from a frustrating season last year as it heads into its first slate of games this weekend in Dallas, Texas.
The Big Red (0-0) will take on University of the Incarnate Word (1-1) on Friday and Southern Methodist (1-0) on Sunday in what will be a chance to build on a successful training camp thus far. The Red have welcomed a large freshman class under second-year head coach John Smith, in hopes of bolstering the roster across the board.
“We have 14 freshman in a squad of thirty,” Smith said. “Balancing that with the returning players has made for exciting sessions thus far.”
Although it is very early, Smith has been impressed with what he has seen so far from his squad.
“Technically, competition has been at a high level,” Smith said. “Last year was a challenging year but it has been encouraging to see a strong signs in training.”
Last year, the Red finished with a record of 1-14-2, with an 0-7 record in Ivy League play. The coaching staff has been working on changing the culture of Cornell soccer and trying to instill a winning mentality heading into this year.
The training sessions thus far have demonstrated how much younger and fitter the team has grown for the 2017 campaign.
“We set a level of expectations in terms of fitness and what guys should be doing technically before they get in here,” Smith said. “Quite often you wait to see how they arrive.”
Under the guidance of the coaching staff and more experienced players, the team has improved its offseason conditioning regimens; many players look to be in great shape heading into this year.
“They’ve come into training in great shape,” Smith commended his team.
This physical fitness has allowed players to showcase their abilities on the ball and focus on the technical side of training. Likewise, Smith has been focused on developing tactics for his young side for the majority of training.
“As far as tactics go, we’ve spent the vast majority of the last 10 days on going over defensive shape and trying to teach the guys individual and team defending,” Smith said.
Offensively, Cornell is looking to be much more creative in its scoring approach this season, as goal scoring was a major area of weakness last year.
“I want this to be a well disciplined team but I also want this to be a team that enjoys going forward and being creative when we have to attack,” Smith said.
As the young players get up to speed with the tactical requirements of collegiate soccer, Smith has been encouraged by what he has seen.
“A lot of these new guys are already at a level where they are making smart decisions on the field,” Smith said.
The young players will join a team led by three captains. Junior defender Ryan Burne, senior defender Spencer Kopko, and senior defender Eric Nuss are working to set standards for work ethic and responsibility both on and off the field.
With the season just days away, Smith has just named the travel squad for the trip to Dallas. He described the competitive nature of position battles in training and noted that this year it has been more difficult choosing players with the added level of talent on the roster.
“It was challenging because there are a number of guys who could’ve made a good claim to be on that trip,” Smith said. “That is great for me as a coach but it is definitely tough for the guys who don’t make it.”
The coaching staff has a solid idea of what Cornell’s top 16 or 17 player rotations will be. But with such a young squad and the prospect of injuries, the shape of the squad could change throughout the season.
Smith says the upcoming games in Dallas will give him with an early sense of where his team stands and whether adjustments need to be made.