The men’s soccer team ended last season with a mix of unexpected accomplishments and unrealized ambitions. Wesleyan finished with a 7-3 NESCAC record, reached the conference tournament semifinals with a two-seed, and were right on the edge of qualifying for the NCAAs for what would have been the Cardinals’ third qualification in a row. This year, the team is hungry for even more.
“We didn’t really know what to expect going in [last year],” said Captain Danny Issroff ’15. “Overall, it was a season that exceeded expectations. And what that has done is really raise expectations going into this season. We have a very, very strong group of players. Very talented, from top to bottom, and very deep. We’re expecting to do very well this year.”
Issroff, a second-year captain with Ben Bratt ’15, attributed his optimism to the return of tried-and-true veterans as well as the addition of new recruits.
“We have a super mix of some very experienced players who have been in and around the team for four years and [have] seen the team go through various ups and downs, and then some exciting young guys,” Issroff said. “I’d say the break-up is pretty even, in terms of youth and experience, which hasn’t always been the case in this team. We’re strong from back to front.”
Asked to describe the squad’s specific strengths, Issroff started off with high hopes in an improved offense.
“We’ve always been good defensively,” he said. “In my four years here, we’ve conceded very few goals. We’ve had some fantastic goalkeepers during my time here. I’m hoping the difference this year is that we’ll be able to score more goals, be able to create more opportunities. We have some very exciting, creative players. We have a lot of pace and a lot of guys who will help us score goals.”
Indeed, Wesleyan’s offense poses significant threats from all sides.
“We have a strong group of strikers,” Issroff said. “I think any one of them on their day is capable of banging in the goals. We have Matt Lynch, who is a senior, Adrian Reifsnyder, junior, and a freshman, Adam Cowie-Haskell, a big target man who’s an exciting player. We also have some good pace and trickery on the wings. [We’re] expecting huge seasons from Omar Bravo [’15], Chris Kafina [’16], [and] some of the younger guys too, [like] Dylan Hoy [’17].”
Issroff cracked a joke while making serious note of a particularly talented group of midfielders.
“I think if you ask any other coach in the NESCAC, we’re super strong in the center midfield—[and] not just because I play there,” said Issroff. “No but honestly, I think we have guys who will start games on the bench for us who would start in most other NESCAC midfields—we’re just that deep in the middle. That should be a huge asset for us.”
Even with such a winning medley of a team, the senior captain added the importance of training as vital to the men’s success.
“We’ve had preseason [training] here all week, but I think that part of the deal with this team is that preparation doesn’t just begin now,” he said. “We’ve been working since we got knocked out of the NESCAC playoffs last year, in terms of fitness, in terms of building strength, in terms of improving tactically, technically, all those things.”
In addition to confident predictions and determined preparation, Issroff expressed humility and caution against taking any potential success for granted.
“It’s well known that the NESCAC is one of, if not the strongest conference in the country for DIII,” Issroff said. “There are going to be the usual suspects who are always up there: Williams, Amherst. Tufts is going to be strong. Among other teams, Middlebury will do quite well; Conn College will do quite well. There are no guarantees, and you have to go into every game anticipating a battle. We’ve been surprised like that in the past, so you can’t take any team lightly in the NESCAC.”
Despite those challenges, he cited success in the NCAA tournament as the Cardinals’ ultimate objective.
It’s difficult to put a specific goal on the season, but we’re definitely hoping to be challenging for the NESCAC title, and we’re definitely hoping to be in the mix in NCAAs,” he said. “Obviously, the ultimate goal is to then go on and do well in NCAA’s. If you look at the history of the men’s soccer program, we’ve never really managed to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. We’ve qualified on numerous occasions and normally failed in the first or second rounds. I think this group really has the potential to go beyond that.”
To start the year off, the squad’s skills and strengths will be put to the test this Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 4:30 p.m. against Eastern Connecticut State University. Wesleyan hosts its first conference game of the season against Bowdoin this Saturday, Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. to begin the Cardinals’ NESCAC campaign.