At the end of last season, Matt Mahoney was in unfamiliar territory.
The Owls endured a 2-14-2 record in 2014—the program’s lowest mark since 2006.
A season prior, the Owls narrowly missed an NCAA tournament appearance with a 10-4-4 record.
For the junior defender and many of his teammates, it was the first time in their soccer careers playing on a team with a losing record.
“A couple players last year, their egos were a little bit too big for our team,” Mahoney said. “There was a big difference not only in the age, but the personality and maturity level between the upperclassmen and the underclassmen.”
The Owls lost seven games by one goal and had six overtime losses last season, and had an 0-9-1 record away from home. It was the first time the Owls did not win a road contest since 2007 when the team went 0-6-1 at opponents’ fields.
“Every loss last season was extremely difficult,” senior goalkeeper Patrick Lestingi said. “As a team, we felt we were in every single game, and we believed we deserved a better result when we stepped out on the pitch.”
After five games this season, the Owls surpassed last year’s win total with a 4-0-1 start.
Mahoney said the Owls have emphasized stronger team chemistry this season.
This past offseason, the squad went to dinners together at Olive Garden before preseason action and trained as a group by running together through local cemeteries and spending time together at each other’s houses off the field.
“How we treated the underclassmen this year was different than how the freshmen last year were treated,” Mahoney said. “The freshmen last year kind of felt like they were just their own class, and that nobody liked them. [This year], they didn’t feel like they were freshmen, but like they were part of the team.”
Solidarity on defense has also made a difference. Last season, Temple allowed 37 goals as a team—an average of 2.06 opponent goals per contest.
Through five games this season, the Owls have conceded two goals.
“We are older now, and more experienced with the college game,” Mahoney said of the defense. “We brought in Carlos [Moros Gracia] at centerback. He’s the oldest guy on the team and he brings a lot of experience and energy. [Brendon] Creed in the back can cover Stefan [Mueller] and myself if we get beat, and there’s just a lot of communication, confidence and trust between all of us.”
Coach David MacWilliams is seeing a more positive, goal-oriented mindset among his team.
This mindset can be seen at practices. Although the structure of MacWilliams’ practice sessions remain mostly intact from past seasons, he said this year’s team is going about the drills and workouts with a higher level of urgency and focus.
“I think everybody’s kind of buying in,” MacWilliams said. “Training sessions are particularly intense, and it’s just a whole different attitude with this group. … The effort is contagious.”
Dan Newhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dannynewhart.