After Rolling to the Ivy League Title Last Year, Princeton Men’s Soccer has Target on its Back
KNIGHT MOVES: Princeton University men’s soccer player Ryan Clare, left, battles for the ball against Rutgers last year. Senior midfielder/forward Clare should help spark the Tiger offense this fall. Princeton starts its 2022 season by facing the Scarlet Knights (1-1) on September 2 in Piscataway. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
After rolling to the Ivy League title last year, going 12-6 overall and 7-0 Ivy, the Princeton University men’s soccer team knows it can’t rest on its laurels as it heads into the 2022 campaign.
“I think one of the things that we have been talking about with these guys since the season ended last year is that there has never been a Princeton team that has won back-to-back Ivy titles,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow. “It is such a competitive league and when you win, the target is just on your back so much. I think our guys have tried to think of themselves with the mentality that they had last year that they are the underdogs. They are going into every game, competing like crazy to get better. That is going to be a really important mentality.”
The Tigers face a competitive opening week as they kick off the season by playing at Rutgers (1-1) on September 2 and then host Vermont (1-0) on September 5 in their home opener.
“We are trying to make the most out of every session and take care of our little details,” said Barlow, whose team was picked first in the Ivy preseason media poll. “We know that all of our games come down to a play here or a play there and not taking a break defensively and being alert enough to pounce on a mistake from the other team. All of these things start to come along when you play more games — we are going to learn where we stand.”
Last Saturday, the Princeton players had a good learning opportunity as they traveled to Philadelphia for scrimmages against Swarthmore and Penn.
“I think it was really good for the guys, a third of our team is new so it was good for those guys to get their feet wet in what a college soccer game looks like,” said Barlow. “Our incoming guys have played at really high levels but nothing compares to college soccer with the frenetic place and the competing and the physicality. From that standpoint it was really good.”
Barlow is expecting some high level play at forward from senior Daniel Diaz-Bonilla (4 goals, 6 assists in 2021) and junior Walker Gillespie (4 goals).
“Those two guys contributed a lot to our attack last year,” said Barlow. “I think it is safe to say that they are going to be really important.”
Others in the mix up top include senior Ryan Clare (4 assists), freshman Danny Ittycheria, and junior Ryan Winkler.
“Ryan Clare can play on the wing,” said Barlow. “We have some new guys that look pretty good, especially out wide. The kid from Warren, N.J., Danny did well in the Swarthmore game. Ryan Winkler has a lot of potential but we just haven’t been able to see him in games. He had major surgery last year and then there was COVID the year before so he has not done much for two years. He has had his moments in preseason where he has looked pretty solid.”
In the midfield, sophomore James Wangsness (1 goal, 3 assists) and junior Malik Pinto (2 gold, 2 assists) figure to do a lot.
“Those two guys were pretty much regulars in the middle of the midfield all of last year,” said Barlow.
A pair of freshmen, Gabriel Duchovny and Jack Jasinski, should make an impact in the middle of the pitch.
“We do have a first year guy who has looked very good at defensive midfield so far in Gabriel,” added Barlow. “Jack played for the Philadelphia Union reserve team as a high schooler as a midfielder. He can play pretty much anywhere. Probably somewhere in the middle of the midfield is going to be his best spot.”
The Tiger defense features some battle-tested performers in senior Ben Bograd, sophomore Issa Mudashiru, junior Francis Akomeah-Sirleaf (3 goals, 1 assist), and senior Lucas Gen (2 goals), along with a pair of freshmen Giuliano Whitchurch and Sam Vigilante.
“Ben, Issa, Francis, and Lucas will all play in the back for us,” said Barlow. “Giuliano has been really solid so he will probably finding himself getting a lot of minutes. Sam, whose his dad (Jason Vigilante) is the cross country coach here is a really versatile player. He can help us in the back and the midfield.”
A pair of sophomores, Will Watson and Khamari Hadaway, are competing at goalie.
“They were two freshmen last year who were very good keepers that didn’t get minutes because we had two very talented seniors,” said Barlow. “They are battling it out, they are both talented.”
For the Tigers, the matchups against Rutgers and Vermont present an opportunity for some pay back.
“They are two teams that beat us last year in two very even games,” said Barlow, whose team fell 1-0 to Rutgers and 2-0 to the Catamounts. “I think we felt as the season went on that we would love to have another shot at those two teams and now we get another shot at them. Rutgers is a fun one — it is a good crowd and a local rivalry.”