Tiger Men’s Soccer Can’t Rest on Laurels As it Goes After 2nd Straight Ivy Crown
TOOLING AROUND: Princeton University men’s soccer player Kevin O’Toole, right, battles for possession in a 2018 game. O’Toole was named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and the junior midfielder/forward figures to be a go-to scorer for the Tigers again this fall. Princeton kicks off its 2019 season by playing at No. 10 Duke (2-0) on September 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Although the Princeton University men’s soccer team was thrilled to win the Ivy League title last fall, Jim Barlow knows that triumph will make things harder on this year’s squad.
“There has never been a Princeton men’s soccer team that has won back-to-back Ivy Titles,” said Princeton head coach Barlow, who guided the Tigers to a 10-5-3 overall record and 5-1-1 Ivy in 2018, winning the fifth league title in his 23-season tenure guiding the program.
“It is pretty rare in our league because there is so much parity in our league. The big challenge for us is understanding how difficult it was to win the league last year and not taking anything for granted this year. The target is going to be on us. Every team is going to know who won the league last year and rise to give a great effort against us. We have got to be prepared for that and have the right mentality to deal with that.”
Princeton is hoping for anther great season from junior star Kevin O’Toole, who was named the 2018 Ivy Offensive Player of the Year after tallying four goals and three assists.
“We expect Kevin to be in the attack somewhere,” said Barlow. “There is a big hole left by [Jeremy] Colvin and [Sean] McSherry graduating. We are trying to figure out exactly what Kevin’s best spot will be. He played on the right side last year with Colvin in the middle and McSherry on the left. Kevin is really good in the right side so he might be there.”
The Tigers have some other good options up top in senior Ben Martin (1 goal and 2 assists in 2018), sophomore Alex Charles, and senior Danny Hampton (1 goal)
“Ben Martin has had a very good preseason so far; he has had some injuries over the years but we think he is more healthy than he has been the last couple of years,” said Barlow.
“He is likely to get a lot of time up front, either as a center forward on the left side or even as an attacking midfielder. In the spring, we experimented a bit with Alex Charles, who had been a defender for us, having him play up front. We had a scrimmage against Columbia on Friday night and he had one of the goals as we won 2-0. Alex can play on either wing, he has got a knack for getting forward. There is also Danny Hampton, one of our captains, he is back and healthy and can play up front or in the midfield.”
Across the midfield, Barlow is looking at sophomores Moulay Hamza Kanzi Belghiti (2 assists) and Kazu Shigenobu along with Martin, Hampton, and O’Toole and freshmen Tristano Fasulo and Daniel Diaz Bonilla.
“The two guys who have been very steady and solid right from the beginning of preseason have been Moulay and Kazu,” said Barlow.
“We have some experienced guys in there with Moulay and Kazu. There is a good chance that Martin, Hampton, and O’Toole could see some time in the midfield. Tristano is a very good central midfielder and Diaz Bonilla has been very good in preseason so far in the midfield.”
Last fall, the Tiger defense was very good as the team yielded only 12 goals all season long and that unit should be a strength again as Princeton welcomes back senior Bobby Hickson, junior Richard Wolf, sophomore Ben Bograd, and senior Cole Morokhovich.
“They have a lot of experience; we have a really stingy back line,” said Barlow.
“I think it starts with the fact the guys up the field defended so well last year. When we lose the ball in the other team’s half, it was good quick transition defending and pressing and making it hard for teams to get any kind of momentum going forward. That is where it started for us and we are going to make that a staple for us this year.”
Another staple for Princeton in recent years has been the stellar play of senior goalie and co-captain Jacob Schachner, who posted a 0.71 goals against average with six shutouts and 38 saves in 2018.
“Jacob had an awesome season last year,” said Barlow, noting that the backups, senior Mohamed Abdelhamid, sophomore Sam Morton, and junior Jack Roberts, have also been impressive.
“Mohamed is also a senior so we have good leadership with seniors in that position. All four of these guys have played in games. We feel like our deepest position may be goalkeeper, we have four goal keepers that we feel really good about.”
With Princeton heading south to play No. 10 Duke (2-0) on September 6 in its season opener, Barlow also feels good about his squad’s chances to give the Blue Devils a battle.
“It is a great challenge with us only being together for 12 days and them having two games and three scrimmages under their belt,” said Barlow.
“They have a lot of things settled on their team and we are still learning a lot about our team. We are confident that we are a good team. We have learned a lot of lessons over the last couple of years and we have got some veteran guys. Despite the fact that we are only a week and half into it and have some guys banged up, we are still ready to go down there and throw everything we have at them and see what we can come out with.”
Noting that his squad has played an inordinate number of nail-biters over the last two seasons, Barlow is confident that the Tigers have what it takes to come out on top in the tight contests ahead.
“We are optimistic that we are going to have a chance to win,” said Barlow.
“It is the case every year — how do you handle the plays in both boxes, how you do in restarts, and how do you handle yourselves when the game is on the line. We have had so many games in the balance or in overtime, we have a lot of experience dealing with it. It helps a lot.”