By Kevin Saxe
Look back in the archives at the recent records of the Springfield College men’s soccer team and you’ll see impressive records with multiple NCAA appearances, ECAC titles, and NEWMAC titles. The one common denominator in pretty much every one of those teams was the combo of a veteran core and some young talent.
Fast forward to this year, when examining the current Pride roster you’ll notice the two-letter abbreviation “Fr” next to 21 of the 32 players on the roster.
Despite having what is the youngest team in recent memory, the Pride have faced a plethora of tough teams from their opening road trip to New York, to Williams, Stevens, and Endicott as well as Castleton and Wesleyan all on the road. Freshman goalie Qasim El-Ashkar discussed the experience playing these tough teams right away.
“I definitely feel like it’s been good to gain that experience playing tough teams. I feel like it’s prepared us well for the rest of the games we’re going to play this season.”
With the tough teams on the schedule coupled with the inconsistencies that come from the lack of experience, the Pride’s record currently sits at 2-6-1 (1-0 in the NEWMAC) after a 2-1 loss at Endicott on Tuesday night. For a young team playing tough teams, it goes beyond the specific opponent for head coach Tommy Crabill who has preached the same approach to all games regardless of who’s on the other side of the field.
“Beyond playing good teams we try to coach the guys up in that any opponent that steps on the field with you can beat you, so it doesn’t really matter who’s on the schedule we’re going to approach the preparation the same way,” said Crabill “It’s an important mentality because once you judge who you’re against you’ve already lost, you’ve been distracted by the schedule.”
For Springfield, not only have they been tested by the quality of opponents, but they have also been faced with the daunting task of playing just a third or six of their 18 games at home on the newly renovated Brock Affleck Field. Crabill talked about the challenges a team as young as his faces going on the road.
“It’s about being consistent and your mental preparation about being consistent, being consistent in finding a routine that have the guys at their peak right before kickoff. That’s really tough for young guys, going into new environments that they haven’t been in before so we try to show them as much information as we can leading up to these road trips. It’s always challenging though because a lot of times you don’t learn until you’re actually on the field and doing it.”
With the season halfway over, the Pride now enter the second half of the season with nine games left, six of them in NEWMAC play and the other three against Framingham State, Brandies, and UMass Boston. El-Ashkar talked about the team’s mindset for the second half of the season.
“Our mindset is obviously win every game or try to win every game, but we have a goal sheet sitting in our locker room, and it lists the goals we try to accomplish for every game. We try to fill out as many of those as possible, but we know obviously nothing is easy. The team is forgetting everything that happened in the past and focusing on what’s happening right now.
As the defending NEWMAC champions, there is pressure to see what the Pride are capable of this year despite the slow start. For the Pride, one of the things that has been preached by Crabill and his staff is consistency. With the team still striving for that consistency, it has led Crabill to have a different focus then with last year’s team.
“We haven’t really talked about national tournament stuff this year, mainly because we’re trying to reach our performance goals and bringing up consistent offensive and defensive play. I’ve avoided talking about, ‘Hey we’ve got to go win the league to get our shot,’ it’s not really the goal this year, it’s more about developing the culture and developing consistent communication and listening.”
For the young members of the Pride finding their consistency at times this season hasn’t always been easy. However, there have been flashes of potential showing through everything from Sajan Harvey and Will Lawson offensively vs Coast Guard, to El Ashkar making a number of key saves in the first half against Westfield including a penalty kick for his first career save to Clay Knibbs, another young goalie making four saves in back to back games in the first half in their last two games against Coast Guard and Endicott. Crabill knows though that it’s not only about winning but building onto the legacy that is Springfield College men’s soccer.
“I’m trying to expand their perception and take a bigger look at the state of our program on a day to day basis, and see how they’re contributing to something we hope grows and continuing the legacy of strong soccer teams at Springfield College. I’m less concerned about results in the NEWMAC and more concerned about seeing consistent winning and culture throughout the season.”
For the Pride, they will be tested as most of the team will get their first taste of the Springfield vs Babson rivalry when the NEWMAC foes do battle in a NEWMAC championship rematch at Brock Affleck Field on Saturday at noon.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros