Men’s Soccer Entry Roundtable: New Faces, Same Expectations

As men’s soccer trudges along through non-conference play, we gathered our soccer writers to analyze where the team stands in the early part of the 2023 season.

Who out of the incoming recruiting class of 2023 has intrigued you the most?

Luke Sassa, Men’s Soccer Beat Writer: The top performers from the incoming class so far are Luca Bulfon, a graduate student goaltender who transferred from the University of South Carolina Upstate; and Kyle Evans, a freshman midfielder who played for the New York Red Bulls Academy previously. Although Evans has gotten off to a fast start with a score in his home debut against Colgate, the most intriguing new face has to be Bulfon. Bulfon, a native of Rivignano-Teor, Italy, comes with a wealth of experience, having started 41 matches at his previous school. What makes him intriguing is the player he is replacing: 2021 MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year Samuel Ilin, whose presence was a staple of the program the previous few seasons. So far, he’s off to a great start, notching 10 saves in the opener against Hofstra’s aggressive front, to go along with a shutout in the team’s draw with FAU.

Marley Pope, Men’s Soccer Beat Editor: One player I’ll be keeping an eye on this season is defender Torge Witteborg. Witteborg is a graduate student from Duquesne University and is originally from Germany. He is slotting right into the left center back position next to Demarre Montoute. Now that several veteran players are no longer with the program, including center-back German Fuentes, defensive midfielder Henrique Cruz, and goalkeeper Sameul Ilin, leadership is needed for this young Marist squad. Witteborg started every game for Duquesne last season, leading them to a 11-4-4 record. With two freshmen starting on his back line, and two more starting in the midfield, Witteborg’s on-field communication and veteran presence will be key for the Red Foxes to grow as a team and will help them ready to compete in conference play.

Kira Crutcher, Contributor: Kyle Evans and Luca Bulfon are the standouts from the incoming class so far. Evans played alongside and against top players at both the academy and with his time at the New York Red Bulls, and experienced a semester of collegiate training and friendlies with Marist last spring. It is not surprising that he seems to have quickly adjusted to collegiate soccer, scoring an across goal finish in the home opener, and recording an assist against Florida Gulf Coast University. 

Yet, as Luke said, the most intriguing recruit has to be Bulfon. Stepping into the shoes of a top keeper like Ilin is no easy feat, but in four games, Bulfon has recorded 25 saves, with a 0.893 save percentage, compared to 0.706 by his opponents and is the reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Week. He has provided much-needed experience that the other goalkeepers do not have that will significantly help Marist in their quest to qualify for the MAAC tournament.

Dave Cohen, Contributor: The most intriguing player out of the incoming recruit class has to be Luca Bulfon, the graduate student keeper from Rivignano-Teor, Italy. Luca has the biggest shoes to fill, but it already looks like he is ready for the challenge. He is comfortable playing high-level D1 soccer, and so far his shot-blocking, distribution skills, and overall play have been outstanding. In the Red Foxes’ home match against FAU, Bulfon recorded his first clean sheet with Marist, coming up with an incredible save in the 7th minute to keep the score 0-0. He collected 17 saves in the first three games (no easy feat) and we will be following him closely to see his impact on the program.

Finn Corcoran-Doolin, Contributor: When you look at their incoming recruiting class, Kyle Evans looks outstanding. In the games I have seen him play in, he is a crucial player who not only helps the Red Foxes on the attack, but he also can press on defense. Evans is playing at center attacking midfielder (CAM); usually this position involves a lot of running and skill to help open up the field and create chances to goal. Evans was without a doubt an impressive player prior to his Marist career, as he was actually playing in the MLS Next league with New York Red Bulls. 

Looking at his stats so far, he is looking incredible as a freshman starter. In three games he has scored one goal, with that goal being against Colgate in the home opener. He also racked up an assist against FGCU in Marist’s 2-1 win, which was their first away win of the collegiate season.

Who or what is the biggest X-factor for the team this season?

Luke:  The biggest X-factors for men’s soccer this season are health and availability. The 2022 team was undermined by injuries and red card bans, with junior forward Richard Morel most notably missing the back half of the season with injury and others shuffling in and out of the lineup at times. Morel, junior forward Jared Juleau, and redshirt senior defender Demarre Montoute in the lineup together as much as possible if they hope to contend, as their veteran presences are the glue that hold this roster together. These aspirations have already gotten off to a bumpy start, as Montoute missed the second game of the season due to a red card and Morel exited the team’s match against FAU with an apparent injury.

Marley: Early this season, we have seen a strong reliance on freshmen players to start games and contribute right away. That is a high standard for players who just entered the program, however the freshmen have looked fantastic in the first couple matches. Midfielder Kyle Evans scored his first goal in the home opener. Defenders Nicholas Sanchez and Joseph Daher have played exceptionally in the fullback spots. Adam Rustami has shown good juice out wide. Samuel Gjokai was just thrusted into the starting lineup last Monday night because of Morel’s injury. 

For Marist to get back to where they want to be, which is competing for a MAAC title, these freshmen will have to continue their success and be consistent, dependable contributors throughout the entire season. They will have to learn on the job what it takes to win games at the Division I level. 

Kira:  While I completely agree with what Luke has said, I believe the other biggest X-factor for the team this season is to keep going for the full 90 minutes, and to not lose focus after taking the lead. Last season, the team went 2-6 in matches decided by a one-goal margin, and on six separate occasions, the Red Foxes allowed the tying or game-winning goal in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Marist has to close out the games, especially minimal leads so as to not drop crucial points. 

Dave: I believe that there are two X-Factors for the team this season: cohesion and communication.

One thing that the Red Foxes did really well in the 3-1 win against Colgate in this year’s home opener was to understand their plan and execute it as a team. In the first half, Colgate came out looking to possess the ball, and it was hard for the Red Foxes to counter. So instead, Viggiano directed the team to press hard and use their collective agility and speed to counter the Colgate defense, and this led to the early goals. They then switched to a more defensive strategy in order to hold the lead, and ended up coming away with a very satisfying win. This togetherness can and should be replicated in order to lead to more wins, and I’m sure Viggiano preaches this every day he can. 

Finn: This team will develop their X factor if they can play as a team. At the end of the day the sport of soccer relies on 11 players and not just one. I believe the Red Foxes have superstar individuals that all can have magical plays, but if this team can find chemistry–both on and off the pitch–they can win massive games. It might be nice to add a trophy to their cabinet as well . 

After both the Hofstra and Colgate games, Marist needed to watch out for receiving more cards then they already have. Injuries could be a problem later, but suspensions for the Red Foxes due to cards is a major factor. For instance, senior defender Demarre Montoute, and who is a reigning third-team All-MAAC defender, already got a red card this season, which meant he could not play in the home opener against Colgate. Marist still won that game 3-1, but still I am sure Head Coach Matt Viggiano would rather see his players play then serve suspensions.

With Head Coach Matt Viggiano entering his 17th season at the helm, what does his presence mean for the program?

Luke:  Viggiano’s leadership and creativity is key for this team as they emerge from a transition period. The 2021 season saw the team achieve great successes, culminating in a MAAC Title, but the roster has been almost completely turned over since then. With 13 new faces populating the roster this year, it certainly helps to have a stabilizing force like Viggiano who has led the program for the better part of two decades. 

Additionally, Viggiano seems to have a firm grip on the strengths of his returning players, frequently involving them in effective set pieces in the early going. While the results might not show it just yet, this team has gotten a bunch of good looks, in no small part due to the competency of their head coach.

Marley: Viggiano’s presence will be especially key this season because of the number of freshman players who are contributing minutes right away. He has seen it all after leading Marist for the last 17 years, and he has created a standard at Marist that players must reach: competing for championships. 

Other than last season, the other year Marist most recently did not make the playoffs was 2014. Viggiano is a competitor and missing the playoffs can’t sit well with him. His leadership will translate to the new players entering the team to create the same mindset on one goal: getting back to the playoffs and making a run.

Kira: Especially in the new age of the transfer portal, it takes a creative, passionate, stable and experienced coach to create a successful team. 

When Marist finished first in the conference and captured the MAAC championship in 2021, they featured 16 new players. Many of the first years, including now junior forward Richard Morel and graduate defender Bernardo Gracindo, quickly thrived in their first season. With the likes of Evans, and Bulfon already starting off strong, Viggiano may be able to find similar success with the new recruits and the strength he retained from last season.

Along with his assistants, Viggiano did an excellent job at recruiting players who have played and trained at a high level, from Division I programs to MLS Next academies, which helps prepare them to make an immediate impact for the Red Foxes. Four of the freshmen played for New York Red Bulls Academy and another three at Player’s Development Academy, which will heighten their chemistry. 

Dave: Viggiano’s presence to the Red Foxes soccer program is an extreme benefit to both new players and the returners. This year, he went out and recruited some experienced players such as new goalie Luca Bulfon. He also went ahead and put trust on some new talent such as Kyle Evans. Evans will be looking to make a name for himself, and players like him can be so essential to even the most experienced squads. Viggiano’s own experience will help the players get a fresh perspective on how Marist wins games, and I’m sure that his insights will help the program top their record during the 2023 campaign. 

Finn: I think it is important to note how hard it is to be a coach of a college soccer team for 17 years. I am new to Marist and have not seen all of Viggiano’s tactics, but when you look at the coach’s biography and see the countless accolades through his collegiate coaching career, your jaw starts to drop. 

Viggiano has experience in places where not a lot of college coaches have had an opportunity to be, yet he still has the capability to show an entertaining style of soccer. His presence will help this team; and along the help of his staff they have recruited talent that can help Marist have a successful year and look to hopefully lift a major title soon. 

Predict the team’s overall and conference records for the 2023 season! 

Luke: With the Red Foxes playing a 16-game regular season slate in 2023, I have them going 8-5-3 overall this season with a 5-3-2 record in the MAAC. While this prediction might seem optimistic, I am accounting for some improvements in 2023. A year ago, Marist went 7-6-4 with a 3-4-3 conference record; the fact that the team still posted a winning season despite the ball seemingly never bouncing their way is a testament to this team’s baseline. With improved luck and availability and further maturation from the team’s leaders, they should improve enough in close games to move up the standings and ultimately qualify for the MAAC Tournament.

Marley: With a lot of new players, Marist should take a step in the right direction this season. I think they will finish with a 8-4-4 record overall and a 4-2-4 record in the MAAC. My concern is if Morel is out for any extended amount of time, who will be relied on to score goals other than Juleau? Evans did get one, along with sophomore midfielder Jonathan Salguero, but the young guys will have to replace a lot of goals. Six of the top eight goal scorers from last season are gone, and Morel is one of the two still with the team. Whatever the answer is will determine how far Marist goes this season. 

Kira: I believe this team certainly has it in them to have a solid winning season, even improving on last season’s record. I think they will finish with an overall record of 7-4-5 and go 5-2-3 in the MAAC. The offensive production has been strong, including potential from younger players like Evans and Salguero, and new additions like Witteborg and Bulfon have reinforced the back line. I believe this group has what it takes to qualify for the MAAC Tournament and potentially make a run. 

Dave: I am pretty optimistic about the team’s prospects this year. I believe Viggiano has a little more to work with this year than last. I could see the Red Foxes going 9-5-2 overall, with a 6-2-2 record in the MAAC. I think the maturation of Jared Juleau will be huge for team success, and I truly believe we’ll see his best year yet. Players like Skyler Cunha, Richard Morel, and Andrea Nguionza will see quality minutes and see improvements in their game. The prospect of this team qualifying for the MAAC Tournament and having success does not seem far out of reach. 

Finn: This team could have a great year if they are hungry for it, and I believe they are. I think they will have an overall record of 9-4-3 and a MAAC record of 5-2-3. There are some seriously talented players when you look at this team; Jared Juleau is a player that comes to mind of how he can have a superstar moment out of nowhere like his free kick against FGCU in their 2-1 win. Another player is graduate student Torge Witteborg coming from Dortmund, Germany, who looks like a solid center back alongside. There are so many more talented players on this team, but I think if the players I mentioned can give it their all every game, then they will be contenders for the MAAC championship this year.

Edited by Jimmy Tsiantoulas and Dan Aulbach

Photo Credit: Kira Crutcher

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