Men’s Soccer Team Falls into the Abyss After Starting Season 5-0
Now I know my place as an associate sports editor for the New University is to cater to our sports successes, but the recent deep slump of the men’s soccer team has me all riled up.
Going into the season, the Anteaters were expected to at least challenge for the Big West title, despite losing some key players to Major League Soccer. And in the beginning it looked like they were going to do just that.
The Anteaters began the season firing up to five consecutive wins over big teams such as Sacramento and San Jose State. They outscored their opponents 12-3 in the Aug. 17 to Sept. 16 span.
For a while, it looked like the returning players were more than picking up the slack and Coach Kuntz’s 2007 recruiting class was looking like the best recruiting class in the program’s history.
Freshman Gray Bailey was looking like a force in the defense, and Amani Walker and Spencer Thomas were looking like younger versions of last year’s forward tandem Brad Evans and Anthony Hamilton. Keeper Pat Barton looked like a solid option in goal, making acrobatic and clutch saves left and right.
Junior Matt Murphy was showing opponents why he was named a Pre-Season All American by overcoming the extra pressure that was thrown at him by opponents after being named Big West Midfielder of the Year in 2006. Senior Brandon Foster was taking lead in the defensive game, and even showed some new playmaking ability on offense.
After the early success, the Anteaters then went to San Diego to play in a tournament that included elite teams from around the nation. They suffered their first setback against Loyola Chicago in a tough 1-0 double overtime defeat.
The Anteaters ranked as high as 24th by College Soccer News, and their match against then ninth-ranked Brown University was looking to be a very intriguing match-up nationwide. The Anteaters battled tough and escaped with a 2-2 tie on two clutch penalty kick goals by Murphy.
Rather than provide a huge confidence booster and inspired play, the game turned out to be the beginning of the Anteaters now dismal season.
The Anteaters have only mustered up one win since the loss against Loyola Chicago, which dated back to Sept. 21. During that streak the Anteaters were 1-8-5.
One cause of concern for the Anteaters could have been fatigue. They played four overtime games in a row, which has to be a taxing effort for the players. However, they are a Division One team, and they are conditioned to deal with games like these.
Some described the skid as a result of a miscommunication on the defense. They are a young squad, and Foster is the only defender with significant game time experience.
This inexperience showed in particular when the Anteaters suffered a 4-0 loss against the reigning national champs and Big West rival UC Santa Barbara on national television. They played nervously and were unprepared for the relentless Gaucho attack.
The Anteaters have not since recovered. Since the five-game win streak, their opponents have outscored the Anteaters by 26-12. Goals are coming sparsely for the Anteaters. With young playmakers like Walker and Thompson up top and tremendous talent in Murphy and Shane Westbrook, it is a shame that the Anteaters could only create goals off set pieces. It is extremely disappointing for a squad that is on the rise to have a setback like this.
Maybe it is just one of those years for the Anteaters. They have tried many different mixes and seem to change between Greg Larson and Barton every other game. Perhaps there is some internal strife within the squad. At times the Anteaters look as if they are lost or uninterested on the field. From my own experience playing soccer, cold streaks can do that to you.
In addition, there is no question that injury has affected the Anteaters as well. Injuries can throw off team chemistry entirely. However, good teams overcome these setbacks and find ways to persevere.
I am not writing this article to bash the team at all. I have some great friends on the team and I have much respect for Coach Kuntz, who after all led the Anteaters to an amazing last season and did wonderfully in the recruiting game this year.
It is comforting to know that the program will get another shot next season with virtually the same squad. Foster is the only starting senior who will graduate. Don’t get me wrong