While browsing the aisles of IKEA in South Philadelphia with his new teammates, freshman forward Elias Hellgren Villegas got a taste of home.
Hellgren Villegas is from Stockholm, Sweden, and as he walked the floors of the Swedish furniture store, the names of the furniture felt familiar.
“It’s funny to go in there and see everything is in Swedish, so it’s just fun to be there,” Hellgren Villegas said. “I can read all the words.”
Shopping for room essentials was just one of the many activities Temple University’s large, new class of 17 soccer players has done to get to know each other since preseason began on Aug. 8. The squad spent hours training, and when they weren’t, they ate together, hung out at each other’s apartments and ventured to Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies game.
On Friday, the team played its season opener, a 1-0 road loss to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Still, the group has grown close, despite the large number of new members.
“We all have a bond already with the two weeks we’ve spent together,” freshman midfielder Jalen Campbell said. “We’re kind of like a mini family.”
This size of Temple’s newly arrived class is not common for most teams, as the average recruiting class is about nine players, first-year coach Brian Rowland said. Rowland was named coach in December 2017 after the university didn’t renew former coach David MacWilliams’ contract in November 2017.
The Owls look to replace scoring lost from forwards Thibault Candia and Alan Camacho Soto, who transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara University, respectively. The two combined for 11 goals last season.
“We were able to identify a need for that many new players,” Rowland said. “I think one of the strengths of our team is the depth of those players plus the players that are still here. I think that it is a competitive group, but that’s certainly a large group of players to bring in at once. But I think it’s going to really help us long term and short term.”
One potential concern with the large class is the sustainability of the team. Rowland said he tried to find a balance of young players and upperclassmen.
Nine are freshmen and 10 are transfers. Included in the transfers are two redshirt freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and one senior. Meanwhile, the Owls have 12 returning players on their 29-man roster. Eleven of the returning players are juniors and seniors.
“It’s a well-balanced group and I think from top to bottom, the team looks where we want it with some balance throughout each year,” Rowland said. “We’re not going to graduate everybody in the same year, so I think it’s a positive influx of talent for sure, and complements the group we have remaining.”
Even with solid athletes at every position, players are still getting used to Rowland’s style of play and each other’s. Temple’s two exhibition games in August both ended in ties, but Hellgren Villegas is not concerned.
“Obviously, with so many new guys coming in, it’s going to take a couple games to really get the whole team functioning as one, but I’m still positive,” Hellgren Villegas said. “Everyone on the team is still positive because we can all see that we really are good. We have some really good players that just need some more time to gel.”