Men's soccer returns on Tuesday against Eastern Connecticut with high expectations and a chip on its shoulder

The men’s soccer team return for the 2015 season with bright prospects and high expectations, but also with a real chip on its shoulder. Last year’s squad saw their season abruptly cut short following a lackluster final two weeks of the the season where the Cardinals lost three of their four final games, including a heartbreaker in penalty kicks at Middlebury in the NESCAC tournament.

This year’s squad will be without last year’s captains Danny Issroff ’15 and All-American Ben Bratt ’15, but the roster is still a seasoned one, with eight of 11 starters returning to the team, including NESCAC Rookie of the Year Adam Cowie-Haskell ’18 and NESCAC first-teamers Charlie Gruner ’17 and Brandon Sousa ’16.

One of the biggest question marks for the team is in goal, where Eric Jasinski ’17, Jack Katkavich ’17, and Brian Harnett ’18 will all be vying for the starting job. While Katkavich will enter the 2015 campaign as the only goalkeeper with any game experience, all three keepers stand a genuine chance of winning the job.

The team will be returning three starters to a backline that would make even stingy Chelsea FC Manager Jose Mourinho proud, with a goals against average of .81 over the past two seasons. Daniel Rubenstein ’17 and Ben Toulotte ’16 will return for their third seasons starting at left back and center back, respectively, while Gruner will likely slot in to fill Bratt’s former spot at center back.

The Cards will look to yet again to improve the production of a group of midfielders and strikers with bags of talent.  The center midfield will be as strong as ever, bolstered by the likes of Max Jones ’16 and captain Hans Erickson ’16.  The team has considerable options out wide and up top, from senior Chris Kafina to standout first-year Komar Martinez-Paiz, who left the Conn. College goalkeeper stuck in the sand on his way to a goal in a preseason scrimmage this past weekend. Cowie-Haskell also added a second goal in the game, coming off his promising freshman year into a second with a bright start.

Wesleyan kicks off their season this week with two tough out-of-conference matches against Eastern Connecticut and Haverford College. The outcome of both matches will have serious implications if the team hopes to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, which it has not done since 2012. The year begins under the lights on Tuesday, September 7 at 7:30 p.m. on Citrin Field, but the Cardinals’ opponent, Eastern Connecticut, will prove a tough task. While the Cardinals dominated proceedings in a 1-0 win last season courtesy of Cowie-Haskell’s debut goal, Eastern Connecticut was a tough opponent to break down and has started the season strong with an emphatic 3-0 win over Babson College.

The Cardinals face another tough opponent on the road at Haverford College on Saturday.  The match will be something of a homecoming for silky outside back Danny Rubenstein, a four-year starter at the Haverford School, the high school located just across the street. Haverford is consistently a regional power, and knocked out the Wesleyan team in kicks from the mark in the team’s last NCAA tournament appearance in 2012. Needless to say, the match will be a huge early season test and a excellent opportunity for both teams to make a statement early in the season.

Looking beyond the first two matches, Wesleyan will face a difficult conference schedule in the NESCAC, arguably the strongest in Division III soccer. Tufts made headlines last season for the conference last season with their victory in the NCAA Division III national championship, while Amherst and Bowdoin are also coming off strong seasons and tournament appearances. Despite the departure of long time head coach Mike Russo, Williams will once again be a nuisance for the Cardinals, who have not taken down the Ephs since 2011.

Hopes and expectations for this season’s team are sky high, but questions remain for the squad ahead of a tough schedule. Coach Geoff Wheeler faces tough choices for the season, especially in goal and in midfield.  The issue that demands the most attention, however, has been the team’s inability to translate creative midfield prowess and long periods of possession into consistent goal-scoring. Nonetheless, the outlook remains bright for what is a talented group eager to make a statement with a flying start to the season.

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