After opening the season with an injured starting lineup, men’s soccer is leaning on its new crop of players to find success on the field.
The Colonials (2–2–1) struggled to generate goals when the season started, remaining scoreless after three games. But the squad recently captured two victories against Liberty last week and Brown Saturday, racking up five goals and recording two clean sheets.
“We’ve created a lot,” head coach Craig Jones said. “It hasn’t shown until the other night, but we’ve probably created more chances than we certainly created last year.”
The team has suffered from a lack of starters in the lineup, mostly due to injuries. Junior forward Oscar Haynes Brown – the leading goalscorer from last year’s squad – has not seen action in a game this season. Graduate student midfielder and forward Haukur Hilmarsson also missed the first three games of the season with an injury.
The team has been forced to make adjustments on the field as a result of the injuries. On offense, Jones started freshman midfielder and forward Tom Cooklin, forward Liam Emson and midfielder Carlyle Smart. While they created chances by sending 18 shots on goal, they have struggled to put the ball in the net.
“We’re asking a lot of guys who’ve just come here, but like I said I can’t fault what they’ve done,” Jones said. “Just that little bit of sharpness, it’s an adjustment that maybe was a little too quick too soon for them.”
The squad’s defense has not escaped injury either. Senior goalkeeper Noah Lubin has been ruled out with a concussion. As a result, freshman goalkeeper Justin Grady has stepped in this season and accumulated 19 saves.
Jones said Grady has adjusted well to collegiate soccer but will need more minutes under his belt to eliminate simple mistakes, like misjudging plays.
“Obviously, it was unfortunate in some of the results of the first three games, but he played well enough,” Jones said. “There are times when he’s a little anxious and looks to make a play when he doesn’t have to, but that’s a learning process, that’s experience.”
Jones said he revamped the midfield from a 4–3–3 featuring three midfields and three forwards to a 4–5–2 featuring five midfielders and two forwards to give the team more room to play creatively on the field.
“We’ve tried to tweak it a little bit and give guys a little more freedom in terms of their movement,” Jones said. “With the players that we have, they’ve excelled having that freedom. I think it’s helped.”
Senior midfielder Max Holdsworth leads the team with two goals and three assists. Graduate student midfielder and defender Sandro Weber has two goals to his name after the team’s victory over Brown Saturday.
Despite the two losses, the defense has three clean sheets to its name. Weber said defense is at the core of the team, and each member of the squad, whether they play on the backline or carry a more offensive role, steps up defensively.
“That’s the thing we build off of, the defense is the most important factor,” Weber said. “We can’t win games without a good defense. Both the defensive four, but also the midfielders and forwards work really well against the ball, and that’s the big factor of our game.”
The Colonials have scored five goals in the past two matches. Weber said a lack of determination was the primary reason the Colonials experienced difficulty with scoring early on in the season.
“We probably missed a little bit of the will to score the goals in the first three matches,” Weber said. “Now we got this sturdy determination and it’s just getting good.”
Holdsworth, the senior midfielder, said the field adjustment is partially responsible for the team’s recent success because it allows for more movement on the field and enables defensemen to join the attack.
“We’ve got all of our team playing good football and passing it around and we get some of the defensive attacking players up the field with the ball,” Holdsworth said.
Holdsworth said the Colonials hope to ride the momentum of the last few games through the rest of the season. He added that the team has finally settled down and adjusted to the new formations and lineups.
“We had some tough away games and we’ve come back and found our style of play,” Holdsworth said. “We’ve been really working it. We started a new formation this year and we’ve worked really hard at it. Now it’s finally given us some success.”
The Colonials return to action Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the second match of their three-game homestand against UMBC.
Emily Maise contributed reporting.