Diaz-Bonilla Shows Progress in Return to Action As Tiger Men’s Soccer Falls to Rutgers in Opener
ON HIS TOES: Princeton University men’s soccer player Daniel Diaz-Bonilla, right, battles Nico Rosamilia of Rutgers for the ball last Friday night in Princeton’s season opener. Junior forward Diaz-Bonilla generated a number of chances for the Tigers in a losing cause as Princeton fell 1-0 to the Scarlet Knights. Princeton was slated to play at Vermont on September 7 before heading to Colgate on September 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Daniel Diaz-Bonilla and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s soccer team were bound to be a bit rusty as they hosted Rutgers last Friday night in their season opener.
Princeton hadn’t played a game in nearly two years with the 2020 season having been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns and had a brief preseason in preparing to play a battle-tested Scarlet Knight squad.
“This team has only been together for two weeks after two years off and that team had a season in the spring,” said junior forward Diaz-Bonilla. “They have already had two games and a month together.”
But with the shifty Diaz-Bonilla displaying some dazzling footwork, the Tigers were able to put Rutgers on its heels several times outshooting the Scarlet Knights 8-7 in the first half as rivals played to a scoreless draw over the first 45 minutes of the contest.
The attacking unit of senior Kevin O’Toole, sophomore Walker Gillespie, senior Frankie DeRosa, and junior Ryan Clare along with Diaz-Bonilla was in sync despite the long hiatus from game action.
“We trust each other,” said Diaz-Bonilla. “We are always fluid, we are moving, we are getting off each other. I could play on the right, Kevin can play on the left and Walker can drop down. It is super fluid. We have got Frankie coming off the bench and Ryan sometimes goes up for us. We have a lot of options.”
Things were even more fluid in the second half as Princeton outshot Rutgers 12-5 only to lose 1-0 on an own goal with 34:19 remaining in regulation.
“Even though we got scored on in the second half, I actually thought we were getting better and better,” said Diaz-Bonilla.
“The positive is that we created a lot of chances, the negative is that we didn’t put them away. In the second half, I felt that we were going to score and send this into overtime.”
Over the last 22 months, Diaz-Bonilla put in a lot of work to get ready for the return to competition.
“It has literally just been two years of just grinding and waiting for this, lifting, working out, training on my own, watching film, doing what I can so I feel good,” said Diaz-Bonilla, a 5’11, 175-pound native of Vienna, Va., who tallied three goals and two assists as a freshman in 2019.
“I feel stronger. I got fitter. I am excited for the season, I am excited for this team.”
Princeton head coach Jim Barlow was excited to see his team back on the pitch for its first game since November 16, 2019 when the Tigers fell 2-1 to Yale.
“It was great, it was a great environment, great fans, and great energy here; it is just frustrating that we didn’t get the result,” said Barlow of the contest which drew a spirited crowd of 584 to Class of 1952 Stadium.
“I thought we still struggled to really be efficient and clean in the final third. For the amount of time we spent up there, you got to get a goal. I give them credit, their keeper made an incredible save on Ryan Clare in the second half.”
Princeton did display some flashes of brilliance at the offensive end of the field.
“We definitely have some dangerous attacking guys and I thought they all put in a good effort today,” said Barlow.
“They all had good games. Like I said at the end to our team, I don’t think anyone had a bad game. I think every guy that we played, played well. They made it hard to think about subbing because they didn’t look tired and they were playing well. The second half kept getting better and better.”
Barlow credited Diaz-Bonilla with producing a good performance.
“That is what we expect from him, to be able to break people down on the dribble and get chances,” said Barlow of Diaz-Bonilla, who had two shots against Rutgers.
“He is doing better with his defending now and pressing. He picked them off a few times and got dangerous on counters. It was a good game for him.”
The Princeton defense also got better over the latter stages of the contest. “We were shaky with the passing in the first half,” said Barlow.
“I think all four of them settled in as the game went on. I thought you could see some rust and some nerves in the first half. We gave them the ball in some dangerous spots that we can’t afford to do. Jack [Roberts] had to come up big a couple of times and Alex [Charles] had to save the day a couple of times.”
As the Tigers hit the road for a game at Vermont on September 7 before heading to Colgate on September 12, Barlow believes his squad will break the ice offensively.
“I think every game is going to be like this: tough, 100 miles per hour, and really competitive,” said Barlow.
“You have just got be better in front of both goals. Hopefully the goals will start coming; we have got to get that first one. We have two tough road trips now to Vermont and Colgate. Not only are they long trips but they are good teams and tough places to play. Vermont is doing really well so we have got to get back to work.”
Diaz-Bonilla and his teammates are ready to keep working hard.
“It is a quick turnaround, we have two days and we will be heading up there Monday night,” said Diaz-Bonilla.
“We are going to take a look at the film and make some adjustments. We will come out strong against Vermont and hopefully put away some goals.”