After being without key offensive players in the fall, like sophomore forward Sean Karani, junior midfielders Kemali Green and Santiago Majewski due to injury, Temple University men’s soccer was forced to play with a squad that wasn’t in sync.
“We just need to be on the same page more,” said sophomore forward Mike Eijgendaal. “Last season it felt more like we just had 11 individuals out on the field rather than one team so if we are on the same page we should be able to score more goals and create a more winning mentality.”
Temple will look to ramp up their offensive aggressiveness and generate more scoring opportunities to create a more consistent offensive system. Last season, the Owls struggled to push the ball in transition and were oftentimes outnumbered in the final third of the field. This spring, the team has emphasized improving their transition offense by having more forwards on the field.
“Obviously we dealt with a lot of injuries,” said head coach Brian Rowland. “We recognize that even with the injuries, we had a lot of talent but I think that we grew a lot from the experiences from last season so now we have to keep trying to improve and I think we have made some strides.”
Last season, Temple was outshot 216-150 by opponents and only scored 14 goals during the 16-game season, which placed them last in the conference.
The Owls utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of the season, giving the team four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three attacking midfielders and one striker. The formation is designed to give teams flexibility on defense, but also leaves a lone attacker against multiple defenders in transition.
Because the Owls were missing their best attacking options for most of the season, the team struggled to push the ball downfield in a one-forward system.
Rowland plans to switch to a new formation this fall after they fill their roster and determine where they can score goals on a more consistent basis, he said.
“Given the circumstances of last season, we decided we would be more pragmatic and try to be more defensively solid,” Rowland added. “Once we have our full group with all of our new additions we will delve into what formation will help us score more goals and remain solid on defense.”
The Owls could turn to a three-forward system to help jumpstart the offense, with Karani and Eijgendaal manning the wing positions. A multiple forward formation would allow the team to have more control over the pace of play and give the team more attacking options with extra forwards in transition.
Karani will return to the field for the Owls this year after missing all of last season due to a lower body injury.
During his freshman season in 2019, Karani started in all 17 games and finished second on the team with nine points from three goals and three assists. He earned a spot on both the AAC and Philadelphia Soccer Six All-Rookie teams and was named to the preseason All-AAC team prior to the 2020-21 season.
“[Karani] has a lot of natural ability that is very difficult to teach,” Rowland said. “I think that he is one of the best attacking players in our conference so anytime you go a season without one of your best offensive weapons, you feel that and I know that he is motivated and hungry to come back.”
The Owls were forced to give valuable minutes to multiple younger players due to the team’s injury struggles. Freshman forwards Nigel Griffith and Gyuwon Chong as well as freshman defender Alex O’Leary all logged more than 600 minutes played last season.
With multiple key starters including Eijgenbaal, Griffith and junior midfielder Andres Charles returning to the lineup as well as younger players getting some valuable collegiate experience, the Owls believe they have the personnel to get back to competing in the American Athletic Conference and win consistently, said freshman defender Luka Kozomara.
“If we have everyone healthy and committed then we will do well,” Kozomara added. “The amount of younger players that had to play was unexpected but I think that will lead to everyone being more ready next year and teams will probably write us off but we are going to come out and surprise everybody.”