It’s been a different type of start this season.
In 2013, the men’s soccer team was 4-1 through its first five matches, posting shutouts in all four of its victories. This fall, the Owls are 1-1-3.
These struggles can, in part, be traced back to the fact that Temple is facing stiffer competition than it was a year ago.
The Owls have seen Penn State, Drexel and Duke in its non-conference schedule this fall, compared to teams like Saint Peter’s, Wofford, and Hofstra, Temple’s first three opponents last year.
The Nittany Lions are currently ranked No. 16 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America coaches’ poll, and the Dragons won the Colonial Athletic Association last year, qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
Owls Coach David MacWilliams said his team’s inexperience against bigger programs has showed through the season’s first couple of weeks.
“We’re a young team,” MacWilliams said. “Unfortunately, we came out on the short end against some of these teams, but in order to get to the [NCAA tournament], you have to play teams with a high [rating percentage index]. You can be 14-0 and not play anybody, and that’s not going to help you.”
MacWilliams added that he doesn’t necessarily agree with how a team’s RPI is calculated.
“Wins are wins,” MacWilliams said. “There’s a lot of parody in college [soccer] today … some teams play only five home games, and then there are some teams that only play three or four away games the whole year, and we don’t punish those teams for not playing enough away games. I think we need to do that more to create a balance in the RPI.”
Sophomore defenseman Robert Sagel said another characteristic that makes facing elite competition is the experience Temple lacks.
“They have top players, they’re big programs and have a lot of experience,” Sagel said. “Most of them have been at that high level for quite a while. They’re not strangers to it, and our goal is to get up to that level as well.”
Goals have come at a premium for Temple thus far this season, as the Owls have tallied six of them in five matches this fall, tied for No. 98 in NCAA scoring offense.
One of the aspects contributing to this statistic is Temple’s failure to convert from set pieces, especially corner kicks.
Temple has earned 29 corners, 15 more than its opponents. Yet, the Owls have only converted on two of these opportunities, both of which came off broken plays in the box.
MacWilliams said there are a few reasons his team hasn’t been able to capitalize from this area of the game.
“We haven’t executed, both on our service and on our runs in the box,” MacWilliams said. “Part of it is we aren’t getting enough guys in the box … part of that is the athleticism of some of the teams that we’re playing … end-to-end, we have to be a little more mobile in getting forward and getting guys in the box.”
Junior forward/midfielder Jared Martinelli, who has been the primary corner-kick taker during the past two seasons, takes accountability for the team’s struggles with corners.
“Part of that is my fault,” Martinelli said. “I’ve been floating some balls in, and keepers have been able to come out and pick them off. I need to do a better job swinging them in there, putting on [Sagel’s] head, stuff like that.”
A Drop in Defense
Temple’s defense was dominant from the start last year, allowing one goal in its first five matches. They rode that momentum through the rest of the fall, finishing tied for ninth in the nation in goals against average, at 0.67 per match.
This year, it’s been a different story.
The Owls have already surrendered seven goals in five matches (1.40 GAA), which ranks them at No. 116 in GAA amongst Division I teams.
MacWilliams said the loss of two key defenders from last year has been a significant factor as to why his squad hasn’t performed as well defensively this season compared to last fall.
“We had [2014 graduates Sawyer Hemmer and Nolan Hemmer],” MacWilliams said. “They were both big parts of our defense. It’s tough replacing those guys. … We have a little less experience [defensively] … we just have to be more consistent.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter at @SteveSportsGuy1