PU Men’s Soccer Aiming to Be in Ivy Title Race, Confident That Depth Can Make the Difference
KICKING OFF: Princeton University men’s soccer player Ben Issroff boots the ball in game last season. Junior defender Issroff should play a key role in the back line for the tigers this fall. Princeton starts its 2018 campaign this weekend by heading to the midwest to play at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (0-0-1) on August 31 and at Bradley (1- 0-1) on September 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Facing a grueling stretch of games to open the 2018 campaign, it is going to be all hands on deck right from the start for the Princeton University men’s soccer team.
“We have seven games in 20 days in the beginning of the season, and we are going to need to go deep,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow, who is heading into his 23rd season guiding the Tigers. “We are going to need a lot of bodies.”
In Barlow’s view, the Tigers have the depth and skill to deal with the challenging schedule.
“I think this is going to possibly be the deepest team we have had; we feel like we have got options in every position,” said Barlow, who guided the Tigers to a 6-7-4 overall record and 2-3-2 Ivy League in 2017.
“Even with guys out with injuries, the level has been high. We were able to look at all of the new guys yesterday in a scrimmage against Columbia and they did great. We won 1-0.”
Princeton features numerous options at forward. “There are six or seven guys who are very, very close right now,” said Barlow, noting that senior Jeremy Colvin (5 goals, 3 assists in 2017), senior co-captain Sean McSherry (1 assist), junior Ben Martin, junior Sean McGowan, and sophomore Gaby Paniagua (2 goals) could see action up top along with promising freshmen Truman Gelnovatch and Ryan Clare.
“When we made changes in the game yesterday, there was not dip on the level, and sometimes there was an increase in the level. We are pretty optimistic about the depth that we have and up front is one of the places where I think we have it.”
The Tigers also appear to have a logjam of talent in the midfield. “There is a very deep group in midfield too; when we made changes in the middle of the midfield against Columbia, the guys we brought on did really well,” said Barlow, who is looking for a big contribution from such returning veterans as junior Danny Hampton, sophomore Frankie DeRosa (1 goal), senior Bryan Prudil (2 assists), sophomore Kevin O’Toole (1 goal, 2 assists), and Colvin.
Two freshmen, Moulay Hamza Kanzi Belghiti and Kazu Shigenobu, bring a lot of talent to the table.
“Moulay Hamza is special; he has got an unbelievable engine and has very clever ideas,” said Barlow, noting that Kanzi Belghiti has trained with the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer (MLS).
“Kazu has done really well with the N.Y. Red Bulls Academy and has even gotten some playing time with the Red Bull USL team.”
Along the back line, the pair of junior Ben Issroff (1 goal) and sophomore Richard Wolf along with newcomers Ben Bograd and Alex Charles should see a lot of time.
“Benji and Wolf started at center back last night. They are both a little banged up, so we only played them 30-45 minutes,” said Barlow, who will also be giving minutes to junior Cole Morokhovich (1 assist), sophomore Michael Osei Wusu, junior Bobby Hickson (2 goals, 1 assist), and senior Henry Martin.
“The two freshman center backs, Ben Bograd and Alex Charles, who came in, had a really good day. To get a shutout against Columbia was pretty impressive.”
Princeton boasts an impressive goalkeeper in junior Jacob Schachner, who posted a 0.92 goals against with four shutouts in 2017.
“Jacob is a real solid, steady, consistent guy back there,” noting that Schachner is one of the team captains along with McSherry. “Jack Roberts and Mohamed Abdelhamid have both been pretty solid so far.”
While having solid players all over the pitch is a plus, Barlow acknowledges that it can be tricky to keep everyone happy.
“It is a good problem if everyone’s mentality stays right and they don’t get frustrated if they don’t get the call right now,” said Barlow.
“The mentality has been good; everyone has been pushing each other, and while they are competing for spots they also have been able to put the team first. If we can keep that mentality and that kind of energy, I think this team can do some really good things.”
In order to do some big things this fall, the Tigers will need to develop a steely mentality.
“I think the key is how resilient our team can be; we let ourselves down in some key moments last year,” said Barlow, noting that all of the Princeton’s Ivy losses last season were by one goal and that the team went 1-3-4 in games that went to overtime.
“When the going got tough or the game was on the line, we made some big mistakes and we were naive in some ways. I think we learned a lot from some of those experiences.”
Princeton should be tough to beat if it plays to its potential. “We are an up-tempo team that can defend up high and make it hard for other teams to get out of their end,” said Barlow.
“When we win it, we can put some good plays together with some urgency to get forward. We have got some solid athletes who are good in the air and fast and can cover ground so I think there are a lot of good pieces.”
The Tigers will be looking to display a sense of urgency in opening weekend as they head to the midwest to play at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (0-0-1) on August 31 and at Bradley (1-0-1) on September 2.
“We have just got to find a way to use the next four days to take another big step forward and get ready for Friday,” said Barlow.
“Going on the road to some environments that we haven’t been to against good teams helps you deal with a lot of the stuff that makes you be more resilient.”