Season Preview: Men’s Soccer Has A New Mentality
From October 2012-November 2014, Penn State men’s soccer ruled the Big Ten. That two year stretch, in fact, marked the longest run atop the Big Ten for the program.
Naturally, expectations were high coming into 2015. The Nittany Lions were even ranked No. 23 nationally, but then complacency set in.
“During that time period, I think the most dangerous thing that can happen to a team or an athlete happened,” Coach Bob Warming said. “They got satisfied and they didn’t really put in the effort that we needed to do before. It was the worst spring that I think I have ever had in collegiate soccer with a team. It was awful.”
The Nittany Lions finished the year dead last in the Big Ten standings with a record of 7-8-3 and were bounced in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
With 2015 now behind them, the Nittany Lions are prepared for a different narrative when the season starts Friday on the road against the defending National Champions No. 1 Stanford. This transformation will all start with senior forward Connor Maloney.
Maloney was a standout performer for the program since his freshman season, during which he started 21 games, tallied two goals, and notched a team-high seven assists. He became a breakout star in the Big Ten his sophomore season, garnering conference Offensive Player of the Year honors with 10 goals and three assists. He continued his quality form last season when he picked up All-Big Ten first team honors again.
Penn State will need its captain Maloney to shine if the team will be successful. However, it’s going to take more than Maloney up top for a team that has just two other multi-goalscorers returning from last season.
Two prospects that could help Maloney are Dayonn Harris and Mac Curran. Both are sophomores and have had a decent amount of success in the lead up to this season. Curran scored two goals last season and found the game winner in a shock victory over professional side Bethlehem Steel FC in the spring. Harris hopes to have better luck this year after missing most of last season with a quad injury. In Harris’ few appearances last season, he did show how dangerous he can be in front of goal. The prime example of this was the goal he scored during the Big Ten Tournament opener.
Sam Bollinger, the super-sub from last season, may have a larger role with the Nittany Lions this year. The redshirt junior made his debut for Penn State last year, scoring three goals in 14 appearances with 11 coming off the bench.
“Sam has always been pretty good for us,” Maloney said. “He has a knack for scoring goals. He is always around the box and always at the right spot at the right time.”
If Penn State’s offense is going to have any chance of scoring a smattering of goals this season, it’s going to need creative play in the midfield. This may be the biggest question mark following the departures of key playmakers Brian James and Drew Klingenberg. This is an area where the speedy Nittany Lions’ wingers could come into play.
The younger Maloney, Austin, is coming off the heels of his first season in Happy Valley in which he was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Pierre Reedy is a New York Red Bulls Academy product who will be entering his first year playing for Penn State, but he has already gotten some praise from the captain. These two could be the workhorses on the flanks delivering chances for the forwards.
The mark of consistency and stability will be the back line for Penn State. Two players in particular, Robby Sagel and Dani Marks, have the potential to lead one of the toughest defenses in the Big Ten. Sagel is a senior who spent his first two seasons playing for Temple before transferring prior to last season. Marks is a team captain who came from the Israeli youth soccer system prior to landing a spot with the Nittany Lions. The two started a majority of games last season and could use the chemistry formed during the past two years to smother opposing attacks.
The starting goalkeeper could be a question mark up until opening day, but senior Evan Finney seems like the front runner. Finney started five games last season after replacing usual starter Matt Bersano and was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team despite Penn State’s early exit. A trio of freshman are sitting behind Finney, but he’ll likely take the field against Stanford Friday.
Talent was not the issue last season. A certain mentality was to blame, and Warming believes he has the answer.
“Every one of our guys wrote a statement of what ‘all in’ meant to them and we put their picture with that statement on their locker,” Warming said. “We had everyone collectively with their statement and picture and put it on a huge poster and hung it in the locker room. It’s a daily reminder that we are not satisfied. We are all in every single day and every single way.”
Despite last season, the team has garnered a reputation of being a quality Big Ten side. The Nittany Lions aren’t entering the year in the Top 25, so what should the outlook for this team be?
“As long as we are all ‘all in’ the expectations are going to be very high for this team and we have a lot of talent,” Connor Maloney said. “I am expecting Final Four, College Cup, that’s where I want to be at the end of the season. It is our senior year and I think we can do it.”