The men’s soccer team both received and meted out its fair share of frustration this week, suffering the loss of senior forward Ray Nelan in a forgettable game against Drew University, but also stymying Western Connecticut University for its first win of the season before of Wednesday’s home opener.
It will be tougher for the Lions (1-1) to make their playoff push lacking Nelan for the time being, who suffered a serious arm injury in a freak accident early at Drew, but senior midfielder Kevin Shaw is leading the way with two goals scored from his spot in the back of midfield.
“It feels good to score,” Shaw said. “Typically I haven’t always been much of a goal scorer and it’s something I worked hard on over the summer.”
Shaw and the rest of the midfield will be providing service to a different forward than expected over the coming weeks, and the change represents a shift in style at the top of the Lions’ 4-5-1 formation.
While head coach George Nazario calls Nelan a “modified forward” capable of using his speed to slip in behind the defense, temporary replacement junior Vinnie Carbone — labelled a forward on the official roster — is more likely to hold up the ball.
“Vinnie can score too, but he’s more of a ‘get the ball, hold it and get it to someone’ type of player,” Shaw said. “He’s not going to get the ball, take on everyone and score like Nelan. What he does well is distributing and making a play on the ball.”
Carbone’s ability to hold up the ball complemenets the Lions’ game plan of controlling games through possession.
“Our mode of business is patience — slow, methodical buildup,” Nazario said. “(It’s) kind of about frustrating the opponent. The more we hold the ball, the more we frustrate them.”
The Lions executed their game plan in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Western Connecticut University, as they outshot the Colonials by a 22-3 margin — 10-1 in shots on goal — and Shaw scored the game’s only goal off a cross from freshman midfielder Matt Taylor.
Keeping the Colonials off the ball and on the defensive allowed freshman goalkeeper Maciej Libucha to have a solid start to his College career, earning a clean sheet in his first-ever appearance.
“(Libucha’s performance) was good,” Shaw said. “I’ve seen him in practice and he’s good — we have three goalkeepers and I’m comfortable with all of them. He wasn’t tested too much, but he did what he had to do, he came out and made a few saves.”
There were fewer positive talking points to take away from the team’s 2-1 loss at 10-man Drew University, when the Lions came up flat in the first half and conceded goals on both sides of half time to go down into a 2-0 hole.
An unassisted, 80th-minute blast from outside the box by Shaw and a late red card on Drew proved to be too little, too late for the Lions, who expect an improved season from a playoff-less 2011.
“Realistically, our goal is to get back into the conference playoffs,” Nazario said. “Maybe if we’re good enough during the regular season we can get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. You don’t have to win the conference playoffs for that.”
With three games this week — including Wednesday’s home opener against Berkeley College — there is ample opportunity for the College to move above .500 before their games against conference opponents begin, with the first one coming on Sep. 15 vs. Ramapo College. That is a goal that they will certainly strive for.
For now, the focus is on this week’s schedule and Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. home opener at the soccer complex. The team is excited to get to play in front of their fans for the first time.
“It should be a big game,” Shaw said before correcting himself. “It’s our first game at home, so it will be a big game.”