Emphasizing Attention to Detail in Preseason, PU Men’s Soccer Seeks Return to Ivy Title Mix
BIG BEN: Princeton University men’s soccer player Ben Martin controls the ball in action last fall. After scoring three goals last year as a freshman, midfielder/forward Martin should play a greater role in the Princeton attack this fall. The Tigers start their 2017 season on the road this weekend with games at Syracuse on September 1 and at Colgate on September 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
For the Princeton University men’s soccer team, homing in on the little things has been the focus of its 2017 preseason training.
Noting that Princeton came up winless in six overtime games last fall and that all of its Ivy League games were either ties or decided by one goal on the way to going to 7-7-3 overall and 1-3-3 Ivy, Princeton head coach Jim Barlow knows that the devil is in the details.
“We know we are right there with everybody,” said Barlow, whose team opens its season on the road this weekend with games at Syracuse on September 1 and at Colgate on September 3.
“We are trying to emphasize the plays that decide games: things like winning second balls, following every shot in on rebounds, not giving away possession on throw-ins, gaining possession on the other team’s throw-ins, not getting stretched out, pressing at the right moment and dropping at the right moments, and winning the battles on re-starts.”
In order to enjoy a good weekend in New York, the Tigers need to take care of some pressing health issues.
“It has been tough this year, we have a lot of injuries,” said Barlow, a 1991 Princeton alum and former Tigers men’s soccer star who is is entering his 22nd season at the helm of his alma mater, having posted an overall record of 162-145-53 with four Ivy crowns in his tenure.
“We don’t have enough guys to play full sides in training; some guys who we think are going to be pretty important guys have hardly practiced at all. It is a mad scramble to try to put all of the pieces together.”
In Barlow’s view, Princeton has some promising pieces at forward.
“Jeremy Colvin (1 assist in 2016) is still an option to play up front; he has played several different positions for us,” said Barlow of the junior.
“He wound up doing really well in the spring of his freshman year as a forward but then not having it translate to any goals last year. He scored a goal in our scrimmage and he has been scoring goals in training. Danny Hampton is a sophomore but he took the entire year off last year to have spinal fusion surgery. He is really talented but he has always had a bad back so we are easing him back into things. He has been training hard and working hard to get back. He is a very talented left-footed guy, he is good around the goal.”
Other options at forward include senior Harry Heffernan (2 goals, 1 assist), sophomore in Will Lentz (1 goal), sophomore Ben Martin (3 goals, 2 assists), sophomore Sean McGowan, freshman Gaby Paniagua, senior Gaby Joseph, junior Moyin Opeyemi, freshman Jonah Lytle, junior Sean McSherry (3 goals, 3 assists), and senior James Reiner (1 goal, 2 assists).
“We have a lot of candidates but it is not clear yet who is going to win those spots,” said Barlow.
In the midfield, two spots will be filled by battle-tested veterans.
“The seniors who have been on the field all four years are Matt Mangini (5 assists) and Dan Bowkett (3 assists), both of those guys are very talented midfielders,”
said Barlow, noting that Mangini is serving as a team co-captain along with classmate Reiner.
The Tigers boast some other talented players in the midfield. “Sean McSherry is so fast, he could play right midfield or he could play up top,” said Barlow, noting that junior Bryan Prudil (1 goal, 1 assist), sophomore Cole Morokhovich, and senior Michael Chang are in the mix.
“Ben Martin was a really good freshman midfielder for us last year. He has been around the goal; he is big and athletic. We have been looking at him a little bit at forward, he might end up there or he might still wind up in the midfield. There are a couple of really talented freshman midfielders, Kevin OToole is one of them and Frankie DeRosa is another.”
On defense, Barlow is hoping that the trio of junior Henry Martin (2 goals, 2 assists), sophomore Benji Issroff (1 assist), and sophomore Bobby Hickson will lead the way.
“In the spring, we played a three-man back line with Henry as the center back, Benji as left center back and Bobby as the right center back; those three guys did a really good job in the spring,” said Barlow, who believes that freshmen Michael Osei Wusu, Richard Wolf, and O’Toole can help out along the back line.
The Tigers have four guys in the mix at goalkeeper. “Jacob Schachner is a sophomore; he started some games last year and did quite well,” said Barlow of Schachner who posted a 0.92 goals against average and a .700 save percentage in four appearances in 2016.
“We have three other goalies this year. Sam Morton is a freshman from Atlanta who has done well and then there is Jack Roberts, a freshman from Massachusetts and sophomore Mohamed Abdelhamid. We have a very good, deep goalkeeper group this year.”
Barlow believes that Princeton has the camaraderie and talent necessary to be a very good team.
“We had the trip to Portugal in the spring that really brought the group together,” said Barlow.
“It is a very close-knit group. We have balance in that we have strength in each part of the field and leadership in each class. There are a lot of really good pieces there and now it is a matter of getting healthy and getting off to a good start and seeing if we can get into a little bit of a rhythm.”
Barlow acknowledges that starting things with the clash at No. 8 Syracuse (2-0) followed by the matchup against Patriot League foe Colgate (0-2) will require a strong effort by his players.
“Syracuse is a really tough test to open the season; it is a great opportunity as well,” said Barlow.
“Our guys need to go into the game confident that the product that we can put on the field can win that game and the same on Sunday. Going to two tough places to play and trying to get a couple of results is a great challenge to start the season.”