The men’s soccer team played its best soccer of the young season this week by out-possessing, out-pressing and out-playing their opponents in a three-game stretch to move above .500 for the first time in almost a year.
The Lions (3-2) earned multi-goal wins over Berkeley College and Lebanon Valley College, with a loss to No. 10 Babson College sandwiched in-between.
“I think this past week is the best we’ve played all season,” midfielder Kevin Shaw said Sunday. “Against Babson we lost and they’re a good team, but we came out and played with energy. We pressured higher up the field and took the ball, and against Lebanon Valley we came out really flat, but then controlled the match and scored three unanswered goals.”
The most dominant showing for the team might have been their 3-0 rout of winless Berkeley at Lions Stadium, though, when they stayed disciplined in the back and owned the majority of possession for their second clean sheet in as many games — coincidentally their season total from 2011.
“It was a good team win,” freshman forward Greg Perri said post-game, forty minutes after scoring his first goal for the program. “It felt really good to get the win, especially since my family was here. It’s nice to get off to a good start at home.”
The College started the scoring in the 17th minute, when from the top of the box sophomore midfielder Kevin McCartney slipped a through ball to on-rushing junior midfielder Tyler Higgins.
Higgins squared the ball back to the top of the six, where unmarked junior forward Vinnie Carbone lashed the ball into the back of the net for his first goal of the year.
Perri out-hustled Berkeley defenders on a free kick in the 56th minute to increase the lead, tapping home a cross from senior defender Vince McEnroe, and Shaw put an exclamation point on the performance by converting a penalty kick in the 87th minute.
The goals came in spite of the performance from Berkeley goalkeeper Thomas Frangeih, who stood on his head to make seven saves and reportedly moon lights as a brick wall.
The bright performances from Carbone and Perri are especially encouraging for a Lions team that lacked production from the forward position last year.
“Both have done a good job,” Shaw said. “Carbone is more of a distributor while Perri is more of a big, fast kid who can score too. Both have helped us win games.”
Perri was very excited for the opportunity presented to him.
“We lost our starting forward, Ray Nelan, and coach asked (Vinnie and I) to step it up,” Perri said. “It felt great to score my first goal. Hopefully they just keep coming.”
Senior goalkeeper Matt Fredrick had plenty of time to himself in the Lions’ goal, collecting a few crosses but not having to make any saves for the win thanks to a strong defensive effort that showed signs of significant improvement over last year’s squad.
“Everyone’s been doing a good job individually (and) we’ve been playing together as a unit more than last year,” Shaw said. “We’ve been more organized.”
Although he’s only a freshman, Perri sees what Shaw sees.
“We’ve had a solid defense ever since I’ve been here,” Perri said. “I mean, really top-of-the-line. We have some great guys back there — Vince, Steve Cukar (etc.) — good guys, strong guys.”
A squad that conceded 1.95 goals last season has allowed an average of one per game through five matches this year, and part of the reason is how successful the Lions have been pressing opponents and forcing turnovers.
“When we press higher up the field, they end up having to kick the ball long back to our defenders,” Shaw said. “Not to take anything away from what (the defenders) have been doing, but pressing helps.”
Despite pressing high and outshooting the undefeated Beavers on Friday in both teams’ first game of the Osprey Open, the Lions fell victim to their own errant finishing and conceded a goal for the first time in 261 minutes to lose the match 2-0.
Converting opportunities was the difference in the team’s 3-1 win against previously undefeated Lebanon Valley a day later, with freshman midfielder Tokio Nakamoto scoring his first goal of his career to tie the game at 1-1 and Shaw sealing it with another late penalty kick for his fourth goal of the year.
The game-winner came off the foot of McEnroe, who took advantage of a goalkeeper mishap to score off a free kick from 40 yards out.
“I’m not sure what (McEnroe) was trying to do there,” Shaw said, laughing. “I’m not taking anything away from the goal, but the goalie screwed up. But when you put the ball in the box, that kind of stuff happens.”
The Lions next travel to Stevens Institute of Technology on Wednesday and kick off conference games with an afternoon contest at Ramapo College this Friday.