A reinvented offense continues to complement a steady back line for the men’s soccer team, and the Lions (3-2) needed both to split its pair of games at t he Stockton Seashore Classic last week.
After opening the tournament with a 2-1 defeat to John Carroll University, the College had a 4-0 rout of Brooklyn College in which four players got on the scoreboard.
Nine Lions have scored already this season, just one shy of last year’s total — a statistic that helps illustrate the team’s shift in offensive philosophy.
“We have definitely adopted a new style of play this year as we are trying to replace Kevin Shaw’s attacking talent,” said sophomore midfielder Nick Costelloe, who scored the opening goal against Brookyln. “This year, we cannot rely on one person up top.”
As the team moves away from its former high-octane, counter-attacking style, the core of the Lions’ game plan has become about keeping possession and spreading the ball around.
“Coach (George) Nazario has really emphasized getting the ball to the flanks and producing crosses,” Costelloe said. “This is an efficient style for us, and we can look to use (junior) forward Jason O’Donnell’s size and strength inside the 18-yard box.”
For the Lions, a large part of creating crossing opportunities comes through getting the defense involved in the attack.
“Since we are a team that likes to keep possession and get numbers up, getting the defenders involved, specifically the fullbacks, is very important to our game,” said junior defender Greg Kaye.
The changes and similarities have held up on the field: O’Donnell has scored three goals on just eight shots, and the Lions are averaging a gaudy three goals per game.
“I think we can attribute that to our new style of play,” Costelloe said. “Because we are looking to fill that gap that was left by Shaw, our midfield will work to create offense. (Sophomore) Clayton Flon and (junior) Jordan Kayal have both been great for us in the midfield and already have produced offensive chances and scored important goals.”
The defensive part of the game hasn’t gone neglected, though, and the team’s two goalkeepers — junior Maciej Libucha and sophomore Jake Nesteruk — have split playing time to combine for a 1.00 goals against average.
“I think it is also important to point out that our defense has been incredibly solid,” Costelloe said. “Our back line has been fantastic for us and has kept us in games.”
The defense is largely made up of veterans who were with the Lions last year, when the team kept five clean sheets — including a 2-0 playoff win over Richard Stockton College.
“I believe having the same defensive unit as last year will be crucial to our success this year,” Kaye said. “Chemistry and communication are two keys to our defense that will allow us to keep compact and hopefully not allow many goals this year.”
Libucha made two saves in the loss to John Caroll, but the Blue Streaks scored the game-winner on a corner kick to cancel out a strike from sophomore Nick Costelloe.
Nesteruk needed just one save for the shutout win over Brooklyn, though, in which Costelloe gave the College an early lead before O’Donnell, sophomore midfielder Thomas Hague and Flon periodically added insurance goals.
It was a complete team performance to show that despite some roster turnover from last year’s squad, which made a run in the NJAC playoffs, this Lions can be just as dangerous.
“This year will certainly be different having graduated some real talent, but now our team has a unique chance to come together and work for each other,” Costelloe said. “We have a group of committed players, and we are all working for a common goal: to win the NJAC.”