As the head coach of Penn State men’s soccer, Bob Warming is entering his eighth year with lots of question marks – namely, which players will make up for lost production.
On Friday night, men’s soccer will take on Hofstra here in Happy Valley to open up regular season play. But they will do so without some familiar faces, as Penn State’s starting 11 will take to Jeffrey Field looking much different than last season.
“Our focus this year – like the hashtag we are using on a lot of things – is 11 [players]as one,” Warming said. “In our sport, the great teams are that way and it is fun to watch. When you watch the great teams in our sport, they move fluidly across the field and it is amazing to see it happen. That is what we want to achieve and our guys have been working hard to get to that point.”
Connor Maloney, the team captain and former Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has moved on to MLS. The Columbus Crew SC fullback produced eight goals and five assists last season, both of which led the team. His value on the attack last season is hard to overstate.
Maloney’s departure also leaves a leadership void, as he played a crucial role not only with his potent play in front of goal, but also his ability to push his teammates.
Dani Marks, a defender entering his junior year as a Nittany Lion, will take over the captain duties. The Israel native will be tasked with leading a relatively inexperienced team, a job that may prove challenging at times.
He’s excited for another season with the Blue and White, where he hopes to re-establish a level of excellence within the program.
“The second I was introduced to Coach Warming, Penn State, and the soccer program, I knew that I had to be here. I had to be part of this amazing thing. It exceeded all my expectations,” Marks said. “The Penn State commitment to excellence and integrity to every single program here has inspired me and keeps inspiring me to do my best for this program and for this school.”
Penn State suffered another major departure on offense, though this one was far more unexpected. Dayonn Harris, the team’s second-leading scorer, transferred to UConn before this season.
Harris’ departure strips Penn State of an improving, pacey forward with impressive ability both with and without the ball. Harris started every match for the Nittany Lions last season, scoring three goals and assisting on two more. Two of those goals came in an overtime loss against perennial power, No. 4 Maryland.
Penn State will have to rely pretty heavily on Aymar Sigue, the Canadian forward who tallied three goals this past season. The senior striker – who measures in at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds – will have to make up for lots of lost production in front of net.
On the defensive side of the ball, Warming’s squad lost an anchor as Robby Sagel, a central defender and the leader in minutes played last season, graduated. Sagel tallied 1,712 minutes on the field, managing to land himself on the All-Big Ten Second Team.
A handful of freshman may be able to make an impact early on in their careers with all of these recent departures. Ethan Beckford will likely see significant playing time as a freshman, pairing with fellow Canadian Sigue up front. Defensively, 6-foot-4 defender Callum Pritchatt could see a fair amount of time on the pitch. Pritchatt’s size could help make up for the lost presence of Sagel.
Austin Maloney, brother of Connor Maloney, hopes to have a real breakout season. The veteran junior, who slotted home a penalty kick in overtime to defeat Wisconsin last season, will certainly be a key contributor going forward. His pace and creativity could pose problems for defenders, and Maloney will be looking to break out this season.
Penn State also returns its redshirt senior goalkeeper Evan Finney. The two-time Big Ten Defender of the Week finished with a 0.82 goals against average in 2016.
“When I came to Penn State, I fell in love with the facilities and the coaching staff is great,” Finney said. “It is a great university and I am excited for my fifth year.”
In order to improve on last year’s 4-4-0 record in the Big Ten – which was enough for fifth place – production is going to have to come from players who are relatively new to the scene.