Coach David MacWilliams knows it. The players know it. The men’s soccer team is young.
Yet they’re not using that as an excuse as they move forward and try to rectify a team that finished with a program-worst 2-14-1 record last season.
“I think that we have a lot to prove,” said MacWilliams, entering his eighth season at the helm. “But I think that we have some good talent. We are a very young team, but confident.”
Of the 26 players listed on the Owls’ roster, 18 are freshmen and sophomores. Fourteen of those underclassmen made an appearance in one of the Owls’ first two games.
The Owls opened their season Friday against Navy, playing to a scoreless tie in the first of two games at the Naval Academy Tournament, held in Annapolis, Md. They dropped a Sunday night game to Maryland-Baltimore County, 2-0, to start the season 0-1-1.
One of the challenges the squad must overcome is its schedule, which MacWilliams labeled one of the hardest in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
A four-game road stretch featuring games at Xavier, Dayton, Charlotte and Saint Louis highlights the schedule. All four teams were ranked in the upper half of an A-10 preseason poll conducted by the league’s coaches. The Owls are picked to finish eleventh. The A-10 is also home to two Top 25 teams, according to the Soccer America preseason poll. Rhode Island is ranked No. 22, while Saint Louis is No. 23.
Despite the youth and schedule, the team has goals to reach, both as individuals and as a team. Senior forward Mike Minai said MacWilliams asked each player to write down both an individual and team goal they wanted to see achieved. The point, Minai said, was to demonstrate that if each player could reach his individual goal, the team would have a successful season. Minai said he wants to score at least six goals and help lead the team to the conference tournament. Last season, he netted one goal and one assist. The Owls must compensate for the loss of Matt Maher, who led the team last season with three goals. Maher is now playing professionally with the Carolina RailHawks of the United Soccer
For a team that managed only 12 goals last season and was shut out 10 times, can the Owls find a way to move forward?
“I let the team know that we all need to work hard, so that we can reach our goals,” said Minai, a team captain. “I think that this year we have a very solid group, much stronger than in the past.”
The team has brought several new faces to the program that will compete now and in the future.
Two of the newcomers, Mackenson Altidor and Jared Harris, were named to the A-10 Preseason All-Rookie Team. Mackenson, a junior defenseman, transferred from Northern Oklahoma Junior College. Harris, a freshman midfielder, played at Manheim Township High in Lancaster, Pa. before coming to Temple. Both Altidor and Harris were in the starting lineup for the first two games.
“The more playing time that [the new players] get, it will be helpful to them,” MacWilliams said. The Owls also are counting on significant contributions from sophomore forward J.T. Noone, who tied for second on the team in goals last season, scoring two. Noone said the key to a good season rests in starting both the season and individual games strong.
“We definitely need to start stronger in games and have better warm-ups,” Noone said. “If we can just get a couple of games under our belts, we will have something to build on.”
He said the team should get some help from the changing mentality everyone is playing under. “We are going to come out with attitude and just give it everything that we can,” Noone said.
The Owls’ first home game will be held Sept. 26 against Philadelphia University at Ambler Field.
Kevin Smiley can be reached at email@example.com.