Last season, second-year head coach Adam Parker guided his SUNY Potsdam men's soccer team to a SUNYAC playoff berth for just the second time in program history. The Bears improved their win total by five (7-9-3) and posted their first winning record in conference play in nine seasons (4-3-2). In Parker's third season the expectations are higher.
“We were so young last year,” said Parker. “We started five or six freshman. Guys got more acclimated to the college level as the season wore on. We were tested by our nonconference schedule, so we were definitely playing our better soccer once the conference season hit. One weekend after another we seemed to have breakthroughs. Now that the guys have tasted that success, there's the pressure to avoid falling back and to earn a home playoff game. I think they're hungry for it.”
Potsdam has 16 players back with postseason experience to go with 16 new faces as well as the return of sophomore midfielder Alex Minsker. Potsdam will miss the experience and leadership of A.J. Ramirez and Chris Mack, but return many key offensive and defensive players. Second team All-SUNYAC selections Eduardo Figueroa and Joseph Glackin are expected to pick up where they left off last season. Figueroa, a forward, led the team in scoring with six goals and five assists for 17 points and Glackin posted a 6-6-3 record along with four shutouts in goal.
The 2012 Bears will be captained by junior midfielder Alessio Vitale and senior defender Vic Colasacco. Vitale finished third on the team in scoring with two goals and five assists for nine points. Colasacco was fourth with three goals, including a season-changing game-winner at New Paltz, and one assist for seven points.
Up front, Figueroa remains the game-changer, but the Bears will be without sophomore Stephen Auyer (6 goals-0 assists-12 points) who is lost for the season due to injury. Figueroa hit a hot streak during midseason in 2011, but Parker is looking for more consistency this year. Senior Chris Nieves and sophomore Cliff Bondi round out the veteran forwards. Nieves gave the Bears quality play in 16 contests last season and Bondi played in all 19 games during his freshman campaign.
The competition is heated among the six freshman forwards. Tom Benedetto, Dylan Krueger and James Turcott have all come on strong at the end of preseason. Ben Firlit, Peter Fabrykiewicz, and Chris Chiarella make the Bears even deeper.
“Chris has played well everywhere we've put him,” said Parker. “He's played a pretty high level of club soccer. He's been able to step in and adapt anywhere we've thrown him so far.”
Vitale will be counted on to be the playmaker at midfield again this season. A very experienced group joins him. Zack LaDue and Jeff Cyrus compose the midfield's senior class. Sophomores Jose Bustamante, Travis Jordan, Matt Cleaver, Conor Engle and Minsker have all logged plenty of minutes as freshmen.
Several first-years have stood out in the early going.
“Mike Jackson is very athletic,” Parker said. We moved him up from center back to the midfield. I think he's going to be able to cover a lot of ground, handle a lot of balls and do a lot of the dirty work. Kyle Cronin and Patrick Mylod are two attacking midfielders. Both are very skilled and will definitely see minutes this year.”
Freshmen Johnny Zator and Kyle Manke will also compete for time on the field.
Four of Potsdam's eight defenders are veterans. Colasacco will anchor the defense. Sophomore Jon Marra started 17 games last year and classmate Pat Cleaver saw action in 14 contests. Senior Sean Atkinson, who rounds out the veterans, made 16 starts last season.
“Sean competes every game,” Parker said. “He's a really hard worker.”
Freshmen Alex Griffith, Steven Sepowski, Andrew Doody, and Eric Cassidy have all started their Bears' careers strong.
“Alex has been playing very well at center back,” said Parker. “He's very smart and steady. Steven has probably been the most consistent freshman we've had so far. He is giving us something we've never had, speed and quickness out wide. He'll be a good one-on-one defender. Andrew is another freshman that we're pretty high on. He'll definitely see time this year, he just needs to get used to the speed of the college game.”
One of the Bears' deepest positions on the field is in goal. Glackin will get the lion's share of the time in goal for his fourth and final season. The senior will leave Potsdam as one of the program's leaders in shutouts and saves. Next in line to see some minutes between the sticks is senior Jake Gyder. Gyder, also a lacrosse player, joined the Bears last season and performed well. He played in five games, made three starts and earned a shutout victory in overtime against Canton last season. Joining the goalkeeping corps this year is freshman Tyler Peterson. Peterson has impressed his coaches in the preseason.
The Bears open the year on Sept. 1, as they host Morrisville State in the second annual Potsdam Soccer College Cup. Potsdam then heads to Long Island the following weekend for a pair of matches with Old Westbury and Farmingdale State. The Bears will continue their challenging nonconference schedule with home games against St. Lawrence, RPI and St. John Fisher before opening their SUNYAC slate at home against Plattsburgh on Sept. 22. Potsdam caps the regular season with a battle against crosstown rival Clarkson on Oct. 23.