The Catalonia region of northeastern Spain is a soccer hotbed, boasting FC Barcelona, one of the top pro clubs in the world, and its legendary superstar Lionel Messi.
This past March, the Princeton University men’s soccer team spent nine days in the area and was fired up to go 3-1 in four friendly matches against Barcelona-area teams.
In the view of longtime Princeton head coach Jim Barlow, the journey should help the Tigers in several respects.
“It has been a long time since we went abroad, our last trip was 2003,” said Barlow.
“We decided to stay in the Barcelona area and that worked out well. We got settled and we got to see the sights. We toured during the day and had games at night. We got to see FC Barcelona play and Espanyol train. It was a great week of culture and sightseeing. It brought the team together. We were able to do more on the field. I think we are further along in the spring than usual.”
Barlow is hoping his team can go further this year than it did last fall when it went 8-6-2 overall and 4-1-2 in Ivy League action, taking third in the league and not getting invited to the NCAA tournament.
“Any time you go through the Ivy League with one loss, you expect to either win the league or be in the tournament,” said Barlow, a 1991 Princeton alum who is in his 18th season guiding the Tigers and has produced a 127-121-44 record with three Ivy crowns.
“We had an opportunity to do a little better in non-league games. In the league, we had nice wins over Dartmouth and Harvard but we let the Cornell game get away from us. The guys are hungry; the league is wide open.”
The Tigers feature a nice one-two punch at forward in junior Cameron Porter (2 goals and 4 assists in 2012) and sophomore Thomas Sanner (4 goals, 6 assists).
“Porter has so many athletic gifts that sometimes he tries to do too much,” said Barlow, noting that sophomore Nico Hurtado, senior Dylan Bowman and junior Julian Griggs should see time at forward.
“He goes fast and gets out of control. He needs to be on the same page with the midfield. He has had two good seasons and is a real scoring threat. Sanner has matured. He makes good runs and he is a good finisher. He is strong and physical.”
Barlow believes the midfield will be a strong unit for the Tigers. “We have a bunch of guys in the mix,” said Barlow, noting that junior Joe Saitta, freshman Brian Costa, freshman Bryan Windsor, freshman Vikram Pothuri, sophomore Jack Hilger, sophomore Andrew Doar, junior Alex Wetterman, and junior Myles McGinley have been playing in middle of the field. “We have a lot of depth; separating the eight midfielders is going to be hard.”
McGinley has emerged as first among equals, according to Barlow. “Myles has established himself as the guy who we can depend on day in, day out in the central midfield,” asserted Barlow.
Princeton boasts a trio of three dependable seniors on defense in Chris Benedict, Patrick O’Neil, and Billy McGuinness.
“It will be O’Neil and Benedict out wide with McGuinness providing a good presence centrally,” added Barlow.
“I am not sure who is going to be playing with McGuinness in the center. Andrew Mills and Josh Miller are vying for that spot. Losing Mark Linnville [a 4-time first-team All-Ivy performer] is tough; he did so much organizing and communicating. We need the guys to step up leadership-wise with their communication.”
Senior goalie Seth MacMillan has been stepping up for the Tigers during the preseason.
“Seth has been great so far, he has been our most consistent and reliable player,” said Barlow,
“Ben Hummel has pushed himself athletically and he is getting to balls he didn’t get to in the past. Freshman Josh Haberman has looked good. I am happy with our depth there. Seth is No. 1 right now.”
The Tigers will get pushed hard in their season opener as they play at Fairleigh Dickinson on September 6.
“They went deep into the NCAAs last year, I think they lost to North Carolina in overtime in the Sweet 16,” said Barlow, reflecting on the 2-0 Knights.
“It is always an even, hard game when we play them. We beat them 1-0 in the second game of the Princeton Invitational last year. This is going to be a different atmosphere at their place on a Friday night. We are excited. They beat Drexel in their opener so they are off to a good start.
Barlow believes that his team can produce another exciting season. “I would like to think that we can do really well in the league,” said Barlow.
“We always go into the season feeling that way. We have to continue to improve everyday in training. We need to develop good chemistry and play well together. How we handle plays in front of both goals will be critical. Last year, we had trouble scoring and the year before we had trouble stopping people. We are concerned right now about where the goals are going to come from for us. We are cautiously optimistic.”