It’s been a different start for the men’s soccer team, as the Owls have won only two games a month into the season.
At this point last fall, Temple sported a 6-3 record, and had only surrendered six goals in those nine matches.
This fall, the team sits at 2-6-1, and has already given up 14 goals, which exceeds its season total of 13 from last year.
Perhaps more crippling than the defensive struggles is the fact that Temple has lacked the ability to finish. The Owls have been shut out five times this season, despite their 28 shots on target in those matches.
Coach David MacWilliams’ team entered the season with a recruiting class ranked No. 19 on collegesoccernews.com.
But even with all the talent, the team has struggled due to inexperience. MacWilliams said a lot of the team’s struggles have had to do with team chemistry, which can only develop through experience.
“We’re still a very young team,” MacWilliams said. “We only start [three or four] seniors. Anytime you do that, and you’re playing at [a high] level, it’s going to be difficult no matter how good the talent is. We’ve made some mistakes that have cost us because of youth.”
Those mistakes lead to goals for the opposition, which puts the defense at a disadvantage. The Owls have led in two matches thus far this season, both of which they ended up winning. MacWilliams said “chasing the game” is an extremely difficult thing to do, no matter the circumstances.
Senior goalie and co-captain Dan Scheck has been in net for 11 of those 14 goals allowed. Scheck admitted this has been his team’s worst start during his tenure at Temple, but said he realizes this is when leadership matters most.
“Right now, leadership has to show up big-time,” Scheck said. “I need to help this team get out of this slump, no matter how it is. Whether it’s performing on the field … or off the field, [we’re] trying to keep the level up in practice, and keep the guys motivated.”
A lot of keeping the ball out of Scheck’s net has to do with the organization of Temple’s back four, which has seen new faces all year. The only consistent starting defenders have been sophomores Robert Sagel and Matt Mahoney, who have started every match.
Freshman Cameron Johnson, redshirt senior Jonah Williams, sophomore Stefan Mueller, and redshirt freshman Mark Grasela have all spent time filling in the other two spots this season.
Sagel, who played for the United States’ U-20 national team during the summer, is the other co-captain this fall. He said building any prominent program takes time, no matter how much talent exists among individuals on a squad.
“Obviously, it’s been frustrating,” Sagel said. “But it’s a process. We’re kind of in the transition years of building a program. … We do have a lot of talent, and it goes beyond specific individuals, and we’re excited to have a fresh start in conference.”
Even though the defense has seen realignment all season, the Owls still face concerns with their offensive production. They turned the tide in their first American Athletic conference match against Cincinnati, netting two goals in their first win in nearly a month.
MacWilliams said a major key to establishing chemistry and creating scoring opportunities is playing the game unselfishly.
“[We have] to move the ball more, and rely on each other versus individuals,” MacWilliams said. “We’ve been a team that has good talent, but it’s talent when we have the ball. We have to find a mix when we don’t have the ball … it’s almost like an ‘Allen Iverson’ situation where [guys think] ‘OK, Allen’s going to do it’ … but [soccer] is a team game.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @SteveSportsGuy1