(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

BACK IN STRIDE: Princeton University men's soccer junior midfielder Matt Care races up the field last Friday in Princeton's 2-1 loss to visiting Loyola (Md.) in the season opener for both teams. Care, a former star for the Hun School and a second-team All-Ivy League performer in his freshman year at PU, is back at full strength after struggling with illness last fall.

PU Men's Soccer Has Painful Opener but Hun Alum Care Regaining Form

Bill Alden

It was a tough night for the Princeton University men's soccer team.

After building a 1-0 lead against Loyola (Md.) last Friday in the season opener for both teams, the Tigers surrendered two goals in a fateful 1:09 stretch in the second half on the way to a 2-1 setback.

Minutes after shaking hands with the Loyola players, the Tigers trudged disconsolately across the field turf at Princeton Stadium where they sat in a circle, rehashing the loss before doing their post-game stretching routine.

While Princeton junior midfielder Matt Care felt the pain of the loss as deeply as his teammates, he had a slightly different perspective on the evening as he took a big step forward in his comeback from a sickness-marred 2006 season.

As a freshman in 2005, the former Hun School star burst on the scene for Princeton, utilizing his gritty play in the midfield to earn second-team All-Ivy League honors.

But contracting an infection in the pelvic area during the spring of his freshman year, Care struggled mightily in his sophomore campaign.

The 5'8, 145-pound Care practiced sparingly and started just 10 of Princeton's 17 games last fall.

Gradually regaining his strength over the spring and summer, Care showed Friday that he was back at full speed, moving the ball smartly in the midfield and racing back on defense to help stymie Loyola rushes.

"It feels great to be back at 100 percent," said Care, with a smile as he reflected on dealing with the infection.

"It's just a joy to be on the soccer field again. You don't realize how much you miss it until you can't actually do it."

Care acknowledged that he didn't experience too much joy in the field last fall.

"Last year, I didn't practice too much because I couldn't do that much without getting pretty sore," recalled Care. "I was on the field last year but I always felt like I was a step slow."

On Friday, Care had extra pep in his step, buoyed by a crowd that included his Hun coach, Chris Kingston, and several former Raider teammates.

"It means a lot to me," said Care. "It gives you a warm feeling to know that you have friends in the stands that come and support you. It's always enjoyable to see their faces."

In assessing the Tigers' narrow loss to Loyola, Care acknowledged it wasn't an enjoyable evening.

"We got the ball moving well at times," said Care. "We gave up those two goals and that set us back. At the end of the game, we had the majority of possession and some good chances."

Despite the result last Friday, Care thinks the Tigers have a good chance of producing a strong season.

"I think we have a positive outlook for the rest of the season and how well we can play," asserted Care.

"I think we can have a really good season. I think we learned from all the overtime games we had last season (1-3-3 in seven OT contests) that we have to have the killer instinct and put things away."

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow saw some positive things Friday, especially from Care and his midfield partners. "In the first half, I thought the guys in the middle of the field really got things moving," said Barlow, whose team scored on a Loyola own goal and was outshot 11-10 on the evening.

"Devin Muntz, Jason Adams, and Matt Care all had stretches where they really had it going. We need more from the attacking guys; they need to get more dangerous. I thought we played well except for five minutes."

But those five bad minutes stuck in Barlow's craw. "I think the biggest thing about this game is that we got a one-goal lead and we had solid defending for the first 55 minutes and then we just had two breakdowns," said Barlow, frowning and shaking his head. "You can't do that; we gave up two soft goals that we should have taken care of just fine."

The defensive lapses were particularly frustrating to Barlow since getting his club to be more stingy on the back has been a point of emphasis.

"It's frustrating because that's been a big priority of ours during the preseason; making sure that during crucial points like right after you score that you are super tight in the back," said Barlow. "I can't explain those two goals."

But Barlow isn't about to let those game one lapses color things for the rest of the fall. "We're still in the preseason [before Ivy play] and we feel that there are guys that we haven't really gotten to know yet because we have only been practicing seven or eight days of practice," said Barlow, whose team will next be in action when it plays at American on September 7. "We're getting back to work, trying to get the pieces together and figuring out how the team is going to come together."

Care, for his part, is determined to be a key piece of the puzzle for the Tigers. "My role is to break up plays and to distribute the ball," said Care. "I want to keep them from scoring and help us score."

And with Care back at full speed, he should cause Princeton's foes to have a lot of tough nights.

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