By, Caroline McCarthy & Jocelyn Visnov, Asst. Features Editor & Asst. Production Editor
After playing an irregular 2020-2021 season, the Manhattan College Men’s Soccer team has utilized an unusual preseason to rebuild the program for the fall 2021 season.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) redirected games originally scheduled for fall 2020 to the spring season due to COVID-19 concerns. By doing so, the league essentially created two consecutive seasons for the conference, leaving teams with little time to prepare.
Manhattan played just six games in the delayed 2020-2021 season, finishing with two wins and four losses. The whole season was played within a month.
To boot, Manhattan lost key players to graduation and transfers but gained 10 new freshmen to give them 32 players this fall. Returning Manhattan players faced the obstacle of playing with three entirely different teams in a six-month period — the 2020 team, summer league and the now assembled 2021 roster.
“It’s really different just because we’ve got almost double the amount of players now,” senior captain Brandon Joseph-Buadi said. “So we are sort of starting again and rebuilding our team.”
Traditional summer practices were replaced by individual training and playing in local leagues. For international students, this meant playing overseas or spending their summer in the United States.
“We had a couple of boys throughout the team go back home to where they’re from and they play a season there just to stay fit,” Joseph-Buadi said. “But I think we’d say the summer and spring seasons were more like fitness and making sure you don’t lose anything.”
Another international player, defender Liam Moore, opted to stay in the United States rather than return to his home in New Zealand. Moore, along with teammates Danny DiMarco and Ronaldo DaSilva played in the USL Two League, a semi-professional league formerly known as the Premiere Development League.
“It was a really good environment,” Moore said. “It was a high-intensity training environment and was really professional.”
“It’s really different just because we’ve got almost double the amount of players now,” Joseph-Buadi said. “So we are sort of starting again and rebuilding our team.”
The team does not feel the roster turnover will affect the dynamic of the team playing to- gether, and has instead decided to look at it as an opportunity to expand the program and rebuild.
“This is a complete fresh start for us,” said Moore. “We’re playing a new formation compared to the spring and have a lot of new players coming in so it was really just like a rebirth of the Manhattan College soccer program.”
New talent from the freshman class will be a huge addition to that fresh start. Freshman defender Harry Bark came to the Bronx all the way from New Zealand.
“There’s only a dream to move to New York City.” Bark said. “I just couldn’t really turn down an opportunity to come to school in New York.”
Bark and freshman forward Yasin Choukri are players to watch this season, according to teammates.
“Yasin, he’s finishing in practice, he’s really good. He always finishes and it shows he’s like a good goal scorer,” said Joseph-Buadi. “Harry is like a machine on the left-hand side…he can play 90 minutes, you know, he’s fit and reliable.”
Bark made his Division One debut by scoring the second goal of the season in Manhattan’s game against Holy Cross on September 1. Bark utilized the speed and reliability Joseph-Buadi spoke of to run up the left side to the opposing half and score as a defender.
“It was a great feeling,” Bark said. “Obviously as an exposure to [Division One] soccer this is a really big thing for me — to be able to help the team out and score my first goal.”
The team, though only having practiced together for less than a month before their season opener to Lehigh University on August 27, used their summer to bond and create camaraderie and trust between one another – something they say is what really makes them click.
“Throughout the summer we’ve had Google Meets with the team so we’ve been doing our team building activities,” Joseph-Buadi said.
These Google Meets really made a difference to the incoming players. For players like Choukri, the program formed friendships that he never expected.
“In terms of the team and being new, I honestly felt really welcomed,” Choukri said. “I came here obviously to play soccer but I’ve made some amazing friendships already.”
Following last Friday’s 2-2 tie at Columbia, the Jaspers will look to improve on their ledger of one win, two losses and a tie to open the season . Still, the players are hopeful that as their team chemistry continues to grow, their number of wins will too.