Men’s Soccer End of Season Roundtable

With the men’s soccer season drawing to a close much earlier than expected, we gathered some closing thoughts and analysis from some of our writers to try and pinpoint what exactly went wrong for Marist, who stood out over the course of the season, along with what comes next for the team.

Obviously this season, the team dealt with a plethora of injuries and absences, ultimately coming up a point short of qualifying for the postseason tournament. What do you think factored most into the Red Foxes missing out on the MAAC tournament?

Luke Sassa, Men’s Soccer Beat Writer: I certainly think the constant turnover in the lineup was the basis for the team’s struggles, with sophomore forward Richard Morel suffering a season-ending knee injury after breaking out as a lead scorer over the first half of the season. The turnover in the lineup didn’t stop there, with players such as Jared Juleau, Liam Salmon, and German Fuentes all missing time as a result of trouble with yellow and red cards. It seemed like availability kept changing on a match-to-match basis, but no matter who was in the lineup, this team was unable to close out matches all season long. 

If they had just managed to close out one more match than they had, the team would’ve punched their ticket to the MAAC tournament, but the team was subpar in close matches, with a 2-6 record in matches decided by a one-goal margin. The team also had a frequent tendency to collapse down the stretch, allowing the tying or go-ahead goal in the final 20 minutes of regulation on six separate occasions, including three occasions in which a decisive score was allowed in the 86th minute or later. This doesn’t even include the match against Rider when the team conceded a game-tying own-goal in the 61st minute to blow the lead. The bottom line is that the Red Foxes left a staggering number of points out on the field in the closing moments of play in a season where they came up just one point short.

Ricardo Martinez, Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Injuries and suspensions were certainly the biggest factors in the Red Foxes missing out on postseason contention, a season after winning the MAAC. As the saying goes, the best ability is availability, which the team did not have enough of. Three red cards, the accumulation of yellow cards, and players sustaining injuries that were significant to keep some players out of action for a game or two– sophomore forward Richard Morel’s season-ending knee injury the most significant–  forced coach Matt Viggiano and his staff to constantly make changes. Several players had to play different positions from what they’re accustomed to depending on who was available, which may have played a factor in the Red Foxes struggling to close out games as Luke pointed out. 

When any team has constant change in their lineup on a game-to-game basis, chemistry is also difficult to build because of that lack of continuity. It’s the little things like being on the same page– knowing how your teammate moves on and off the ball and knowing their strengths and weaknesses– that are developed through playing with the same teammates for an extended period of time. Unfortunately for the Red Foxes and Viggiano, availability was the biggest hindrance the team dealt with this year.

Kira Crutcher, Contributing Writer: As both Luke and Ricardo mentioned, the turnover in the lineup due to injuries and suspensions had a massive effect, especially on the chemistry. Losing Richard Morel to a knee injury, by far being the most significant loss. 

Marist has often thrived on scoring off of through balls, especially to the wide players. With new players frequently slotting in, this was made more difficult, with the opposition often winning the ball back or getting a throw-in. The changes also revealed the lack of experience in some of the players, whether that be with one another, in adapting to a new position, or in playing collegiate-level soccer. 

Furthermore, coming off a season where the Red Foxes won both the regular MAAC title and the championship, and were predicted to finish first, many of the players were complacent – expecting another victorious season. This was one frustration Viggiano noted after a loss at Tenney. 

As Luke mentioned, Marist also had a problem with conceding late goals. Sometimes, such as with the Rider and Niagara games, this resulted in a tie, costing the Red Foxes crucial points. This season saw the end of overtime if the game ended in a tie. Hopefully next season, Marist can turn some ties into wins within the 90-minute period of play. 

Sam Murphy, Contributing Writer: Like everyone said, injuries played a huge role in how this season went. For any team, repeatedly losing players to injury, and suspension will make it hard to find consistency, which is really important in the MAAC. It’s no secret that this year’s team is pretty different from last year’s. They are still a very good team and should be competing for the conference title, but losing so many of not only their starters but guys who had been on the team for many years – like Justin Scharf, Antek Sienkiel, Stefan Copetti, and Huib Achterkamp – meant they were going to have work hard to find that winning mixture. Early on, they certainly had it going. In their seven-game non-conference schedule, they went 4-2-1, a 1.8 point per game pace that, if maintained for MAAC play, would have them in fourth place and hosting an opening-round playoff game. Instead, they took 12 points from those ten games and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017. 

So after working at the beginning of the season to find their chemistry, losing key guys like Morel, Salmon, and Fuentes really hurt them. I think the impact of those losses was felt down the stretch; as Luke mentioned, the team didn’t fair well in close games and frequently found themselves having to push for a late goal, which never came. Losing those offensive-impact players is a direct correlation.

Who do you think was the team MVP this past season? How about the most improved player?

Luke: One of the keys to this team for a while now has been 2021 MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year Samuel Ilin, whose dominant performance a season ago helped lift the team to a MAAC Championship. However, Ilin saw his numbers take a slight dip in 2022, with four fewer shutouts and a six-point drop in save percentage. With this in mind, the team MVP should go to a new name for 2022 – that would be newcomer Jared Juleau, the breakout junior left wing who came to Marist via the transfer portal.

Juleau was the heart and soul of the Marist attack, helping to set up and finish off a large portion of Marist’s scoring plays. He led the team with six goals, five assists, and 39 shots taken, indicating his aggressiveness on offense. Juleau was seemingly almost always in the right place at the right time, ready to pass the torch to an open teammate or finish the job himself. The Red Fox offense should be in good hands next season with Juleau and the return of Morel; here’s hoping that the duo can reach their full potential with better injury luck and having now played together for an extended period of time.

Ricardo: This has to go to the transfer from St. John’s, junior left winger Jared Juleau. As Luke said, Juleau led the team with six goals and five assists on the season. At one point early in the season, he had a five-game points streak. In total, he had a goal contribution in nine out of 15 games played this season and earned a spot on the All-MAAC third team. With a healthy Morel next season, this duo could be even more dangerous to opposing teams in the MAAC.

Kira: I am going to have to agree with Sam and go with senior midfielder, captain, and All-MAAC First Team selection Henrique Cruz. He was a dominant force for the Red Foxes, both offensively – scoring four goals and setting up two assists, as well as defensively making key blocks, and playing the ball calmly out from the back. Cruz was an exemplary leader, vocally encouraging and communicating with his teammates. He was fearless and physical, not shying away from a challenge without being over the top, so as to get suspended and miss any games.  

Sam: For me, Henrique Cruz instantly comes to mind. The towering midfielder was a captain this year and submitted another strong season earning his second consecutive All-MAAC First Team selection. He finished third on the team in points with ten and led the team in game-winning goals with two. He was consistent with his numbers from last year, getting an extra point and shooting at a similar rate. Beyond that, he’s a visible leader on the pitch. The Brazilian plays with emotion, energy, and urgency; everything Viggiano could ask for from his captain. Finally, he’s not afraid to stand his ground and won’t back down from a challenge, which is important with the physicality of college soccer.

How do you think the team can make up for the impending loss of players such as standout goalkeeper Sam Ilin, who has run out of eligibility?

Luke: Replacing Ilin will be tricky, but turnover is nothing new for this team; the team entered this season with over a dozen new faces on the roster, so head coach Matt Viggiano will once again have to try to maintain a winning culture in spite of changes taking place. The difference this time is that turnover is coming at arguably the most important position on the pitch, goalkeeper. Obviously, it will be difficult to replicate Ilin’s immediate production, but Viggiano will have some options, whether he chooses to look internally or turn to the transfer portal. With Viggiano having led this team for over 16 seasons now as head coach and consistently demonstrating success in recruiting talented personnel, he has earned the benefit of the doubt and ought to be trusted to find someone in goal who can prevent a noticeable dropoff in production.

Ricardo: For the Red Foxes, replacing Sam Ilin is not going to be easy considering how well he played during his time here in Poughkeepsie. They do still have junior Jaiden Pean and freshman AJ Lucas who could step in for the starting spot. The transfer portal is always an option to potentially bring in another keeper to compete. Some of the younger players will also need to step up for the graduate students and seniors that are leaving. Freshman winger Damola Akanni played in all 17 games this season and could be in for a bigger role with the departure of graduate students Hugo Guerra and Skylar Conway who both played on the wing. Freshman attacking midfielder Jonathan Salguero played in 15 games this season and could also compete for a starting role next season. A combination of underclassmen having bigger roles and bringing players in from the transfer portal should help the team contend for the MAAC title.

Kira: Obviously losing Sam Ilin is a major loss for the Red Foxes. With second-string goalkeeper Dylan McDermott also not returning, Marist will find itself lacking experience in between the posts. Potentially this is where the transfer portal could come in handy. As a former goalkeeper myself, I understand that it is a demanding position, making a few mistakes can cost your team contention from playoffs by losing crucial points. Although Pean and Lucas could step up and have fantastic careers, it would be helpful to have a keeper with collegiate experience. 

Marist will also have to adapt to losing seven of their starters from all across the field. This includes a goalkeeper, two defenders, two midfielders, and three forwards. Next season, sophomore Richard Morel will likely lead the attack, potentially alongside freshmen Damola Akanni and Jonathan Salguero who both saw significant playing time this season. 

Sam: Goalkeeper is a really interesting position in soccer because when you have a good goalie, you don’t have to think about it. In his three seasons at Marist, Ilin played 56 of 58 games; that’s 97 percent. Replacing someone who played in nearly all of your games won’t be easy. That’s the blessing and curse of having a standout goalie, you know who you want playing, but you don’t get to give the younger guys reps to get their feet wet. They have keepers who have been in the pipeline who deserve a look, and as Ricardo said, there’s always the transfer portal. 

The program has only had two losing seasons since 2014. Despite the uncertainty of the offseason, do you think men’s soccer will be able to rebound and return to the top of the conference standings in 2023?

Luke: The short answer is yes. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong this season, from the untimely absences to team-wide struggles in the clutch all adding up, and even then, the Red Foxes missed the postseason by only the narrowest of margins. It almost feels as though their luck has to even out in the long run, which will hopefully give the team a positive boost. With a number of core pieces likely returning on offense and on the back line, the infrastructure is there for this team to become more consistent if they can stay on the field and continue to improve together with age. A prime example for Marist to look at when it comes to a winning program bouncing back from a disappointing season is Quinnipiac – after finishing in the top two of the MAAC regular season standings for three straight seasons, the team slumped to ninth last year before rising back to the top this year, proving that it can be done.

Ricardo: Considering I think injuries and suspensions were the biggest factors in the team not making it to the postseason, I think this team can still contend. Morel will be back, and as mentioned before, pairing him and Juleau, and potentially Akanni, together will make the offense dangerous. The biggest question marks certainly lie in the midfield and between the posts as most of the younger players on the roster in those positions didn’t see the field very often, but change is inevitable. As long as players can stay healthy and avoid suspensions to have the same starting 11 play together more often, this team can certainly fight for a MAAC championship.

Kira: As a program, Marist definitely has the ability to return to the top of the conference standing in 2023. Actually doing so will be up to the players and staff themselves. 

I think having this reality check of not making postseason contention will be really helpful next season, as they will know not to be complacent in their past efforts. 

Viggiano is a proven and respected coach, backed by excellent assistants, and a great goalkeeper coach. This will help Marist sign players to address the gaps in the team from the large departing class. 

Team bonding and mentality will be critical, and Viggiano will likely rely on returning players to help make the transition easy for the new recruits. After all, Marist had sixteen new players in the 2021-2022 season, many of whom, such as Richard Morel, Henrique Cruz, Bernardo Gracindo, and Kyle Galloway were able to thrive in their first season at Marist. 

Sam: Yes. This team is still a top team in the MAAC and, as we’ve said, without injuries and suspensions, would have been in the playoffs looking to defend their crown. They will lose some key pieces and have to replace them, but that is the nature of college sports, and no team can avoid that. Viggiano has proven himself a good coach and one that earns the respect of his players. I think that reputation is critical in the modern college sports landscape. Players will know or quickly discover what Marist soccer is all about, and I think they’re a destination for mid-major college soccer. Bringing in Cruz and Bernardo Gracindo for the 2021 season from “bigger name” schools was a big reason why they won the MAAC. I think the coaching staff will be practical in addressing their needs for the 2023 season and won’t have a problem getting players to sign on.

Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Andrew Hard

Photo from Kira Crutcher

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