by Pete Janny & Victor Franco, Sports Editor & Staff Writer
The bright lights that illuminate the Gaelic Park field on muggy and chilly nights signal the arrival of fall every year on campus. Whether you are a passerby or a spectator in the bleachers, there is an element of intrigue that emanates from the field of play on those nights.
The entertainment itself is courtesy of the Manhattan men’s and women’s soccer programs — two teams that headline the sports scene on campus every fall. Sadly, those performances are missing this semester.
Head men’s soccer coach Jordan Scott and women’s coach Brendan Lawler have been faced with unprecedented challenges in leading their respective teams since the MAAC conference cancelled fall sports on July 27 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Nowadays, both coaches are tasked with helping their players balance both the negative emotions caused by the cancellation and the expectations for them to keep working hard through it all. On top of that, both coaches are responsible for making sure their new players get comfortable in their systems. This challenge of getting the existing players on the same page as the newcomers could be daunting any year, let alone during a global pandemic.
“There’s been a lot of sacrifices made and a lot of planning,” Scott told The Quadrangle back in August. “A lot of investment by everybody globally, and even on campus to allow us to be able to stay on Gaelic Park with a uniform and to feel like we are a team again. And I think we have to feel very fortunate.”
On the men’s side, it was a necessity for the program to replenish the roster after a chunk of important contributors from last year’s team graduated. Much to their credit, the program was able to shore up some areas of need this offseason by securing the services of 12 new players that combine to form Scott’s biggest recruiting haul since becoming head coach in 2011.
“It’s the biggest class I’ve ever brought in,” Scott said. “When we look at it, I’m excited about all the guys in different ways. I think that we have a lot of holes to fill. You know, we had a lot of great guys that were not just great players, but just great leaders. We have to build the team back up again, we have to spend the time working with new guys to make them understand the concepts, the strategies, the way we want to play for the future and also give them enough space to be able to add in their qualities, which is why we recruited them.”
The freshman newcomers include Jose Mendes, Danny DiMarco, Olsen Aluc, Johnny Sauceda, Mason Martelloni, Vladimir Lee, Joe Spires, and Mason Chetti. These players, combined with the arrivals of five new transfers, give Scott a lot of new options to work with. For the immediate future, the top priority will be finding the right roles for these new players to complement the pre-existing core, headlined by players like Brandon Joseph-Baudi and Simon Busch.
The loss of players like Marcelin Goehier, Adrian Awana, and Berti Fourrier will be tough to replace. Gohier graduated as one of the best goalkeepers in program history, pacing the all-time list for shutouts with 17. In his two years at Manhattan, Awana was a two-time All-MAAC First Team selection and has left big shoes to fill at center back. Then there’s the void left behind by Fourrier, who was supposed to return for one last season, but ultimately elected to forgo his final year of eligibility only after two seasons at the school. Fourrier, a countryman of France like Awana, was a two-time All-MAAC Second Team selection and led the team in goals last season with five.
Scott realizes the value of this time of practice and development for his players before their next foray into a MAAC season — whether that comes in the spring or next fall. He knows firsthand how frustrating the game of soccer could be at times, and so to prepare his team for the moments of adversity, Scott wants them to use the time now to develop trust and camaraderie among each other so that they can build on their 6-10-1 record from a season ago, including a 5-4-1 mark in the MAAC.
“Every day we’re going to take it day by day because we just don’t know what’s around the corner,” Scott said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. So I’d rather just focus on today getting better, and then we’ll wake up tomorrow and we’ll deal with tomorrow. That’s how we’re going to approach it. So I’m excited about that, I’m excited to see our guys back on the field and obviously to see the new guys in uniform.”
Meanwhile, the women’s team is poised to bounce back following a 2019 campaign which saw them post a record of 4-11-2. In his 11th year in charge of the program, Lawler is in a similar position as Scott in terms of integrating the newcomers into his system. In doing so, one of his goals is to improve the offensive attack of his team, which only scored three goals or more on three occasions last season. Typical for a MAAC squad, nine of the team’s games last season were decided by one goal or less. Defense has been their calling card in years past, and that should be the case once again with seniors Gemma Perez and Sydney Hardwood anchoring the backline.
“From 2015-2017 it was one-goal wins,” Lawler said, in which his 2017 squad advanced to the MAAC Championship game.
Lawler has brought in eight new freshmen to restock his roster. The program’s class of 2024 consists of Reina Callahan, Madison Eisele, Kelly Harris, Ianah Mackey, Meli Pekmezian, Ava Kowal, and Chloe Davis.
Davis is the crown jewel of this year’s recruiting class. The services of the rookie defender from Salado, Texas were coveted by power five schools—such as Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Rutgers—but she ultimately chose to join the Manhattan family because of its smaller size.
“I just feel like it would’ve been two competent different experiences,” Davis said in an interview with News 12. “I just felt like I would succeed more in a smaller school both academically and socially.”
Lawler’s been around long enough to know that results aren’t everything. As much as he wants to win, he’s just as concerned with building character among his players. The sobering realities caused by the pandemic has reinforced those ideals to him.
“As I got older it’s become more than wins and losses and trying to make people better for when they leave Manhattan College,” Lawler said. “I want to be someone who teaches people to set positive goals and to motivate them to help others achieve their goals.”
With the weather slowly starting to feel more like wintertime, both teams will have to wait and see how the country, specifically the northeast, fares with safeguarding against the coronavirus during the colder months ahead. The ideal scenario is to be playing games again at Gaelic Park in the spring — with the bright lights on and the mechanical sounds of the subways echoing in the back. Because for them, there’s nothing more normal.