PHILADELPHIA – Under the direction of eighth-year head coach Don D’Ambra, the Saint Joseph's men's soccer squad will host Temple in the 2017 season opener this Friday, August 25 at 7:30 p.m., the first of nine home matches to be played on Sweeney Field this fall. Saint Joseph’s returns 14 Hawks, including six potential starters, and will sport a roster of eight seniors, six juniors, four sophomores, and 11 first-year players for the 2017 season. Senior midfielder Matt Crawford, senior defender Ben Zambetti, and junior defender Eddie McCusker have been selected to captain the Hawks.
“I am very pleased with how the preseason has gone so far,” said D’Ambra. “A majority of the team reported to camp in very good physical condition. They have been working extremely hard, and we have an excellent mix of upperclassmen and new players. We have some very talented younger players that we expect to come and help contribute this year.”
Saint Joseph's will play 10 non-conference matches to prepare for the conference slate. The Hawks will play three of their first four matches at home, hosting Temple (Aug. 25) and Hartford (Aug. 29) before heading to Hamden, Conn. to face Quinnipiac (Sept. 2). SJU will then host Manhattan (Sept. 6) before playing three consecutive road matches at VMI (Sept. 9), Sacred Heart (Sept. 12), and Villanova (Sept. 19). The Crimson and Gray will then head home to host Yale (Sept. 23) before heading back on the road to face Navy in Annapolis, Md. (Sept. 26). The Hawks will close the non-conference schedule at home against Central Connecticut (Sept. 30).
The Hawks will embark on their 31st year in the Atlantic 10 Conference this spring, opening league action at Dayton on Wednesday, October 4. Saint Joseph’s will host George Mason (Oct. 7), Massachusetts (Oct. 11), VCU (Oct. 21), and George Washington (Oct. 28) in conference action and will face Fordham (Oct. 14), La Salle (Oct. 18), and Saint Louis (Nov. 1) on the road.
The quarterfinals of the 2017 A-10 Championship will run from November 4-5 at campus sites while the semifinals (Nov. 10) and title match (Nov. 12) will be played at the University of Dayton’s Baujan Field in Dayton, Ohio.
Live streaming ($) of all nine regular-season home games will be available via a subscription to the Atlantic 10 Network. To sign up, please click here. Live stats will also be provided for all home games, at SJUHawks.com.
The Hawks are 14-38-7 all-time against Temple and are 2-4-1 in season-opening matches under D’Ambra’s direction.
Junior Derek MacKinnon enters his third season this fall and will be expected to be a main contributor in the forward position for the Crimson and Gray. MacKinnon turned in three goals, including back-to-back match-winners against Rhode Island and George Mason, and two assists last season and has started 29 of 31 matches over the last two years.
“Derek has made some very good adjustments to his game over the past two years and looks terrific this preseason camp,” said D’Ambra. “He is highly motivated to be an impact forward for this team and within the conference, and I believe he can have a really great year if he keeps working hard.”
Both in their second collegiate seasons, senior Isaac Agyapong and sophomore transfer John Fritz (Macungie, Pa./Emmaus/Pittsburgh) will also be expected to contribute in the forward positions. Agyapong scored twice in 12 appearances for SJU last spring while Fritz earned a goal in 11 appearances with the University of Pittsburgh last fall.
“Isaac is an extremely talented forward, especially within the attacking third of the field,” said D’Ambra. “He is coming off of an injury which has slowed down his development, but I truly believe he can make an impact for this team if he is able to get back to the speed and intensity that he was playing in the spring before his surgery.
“Fritz came to us from the University of Pittsburgh, and he is big and strong and works very hard,” added D’Ambra. “I think he has the potential to be a steady contributor for this team."
Redshirt freshman Jarod Ramses, who missed last season due to injury, rounds out SJU’s unit of forwards.
A 2016 Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second Team midfield selection, senior tri-captain Matt Crawford scored nearly half of the Hawks’ goals last spring, finding the back of the net seven times. A two-way midfielder, Crawford led the squad in minutes played (1622), points (17), shots (47), shots on goal (17) and match-winners (3) and tied for the team lead in assists (3). The senior is the only returning Hawk to have started all 18 matches last fall.
“Matt is one of the top players in this conference,” said D’Ambra. “He is one of the most well-rounded players, with an extremely high IQ of the game, and is capable of doing some great things this year. He will be expected to help mentor the young guys on this team throughout the season, as well."
Crawford’s strong leadership and veteran experience will prove to be integral in guiding the entire midfield unit this season, as D’Ambra anticipates four newcomers to potentially break into the starting line-up on opening day in freshman Ritchie Barry (Sparta, N.J./Sparta), freshman Alvin Dahn (Yekepa, Liberia/Phelps School (Pa.)), sophomore Dontrim Namani (West Chester, Pa./West Chester Bayard Rustin/Delaware County CC), and freshman Aidan Watkins (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North).
“I am very pleased with our freshmen class as they are talented and have been playing with high confidence throughout the preseason,” said D’Ambra. “With the addition of five new freshmen midfielders, we have eight or nine players who all will be competing to earn starting opportunities throughout the season. We will have more depth in bringing guys off the bench throughout the year, which is something we have never had before. It's been fun watching all these guys compete and push each other, which will ultimately help the team.”
Senior Nick Hartwell, junior Kyle Lochbihler, the only other returning Hawk aside from Crawford that appeared in all 18 matches last spring, junior Kyle Millar, junior Lou Vilotti, who missed last season due to injury but gave the Hawks 47.9 minutes per match off the bench as a freshman, sophomore Daryus Lake, SJU’s 2016 Rookie of the Year, sophomore Matt Mullock, and freshman Alan Kahlenbeck (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) will add significant depth to SJU's offense.
Saint Joseph’s owns a great advantage on the defensive end of the field with a strong quartet of veterans in senior tri-captain Ben Zambetti, junior tri-captain Eddie McCusker, senior Kevin Lockhart, and senior Tom Santilli; Zambetti, McCusker, and Lockhart were regular starters last fall while Santilli appeared off the bench in nearly every match. They will be expected to guide freshmen David Grana (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena) and Daniel Morales (Santa Clarita, Calif./William S. Hart), who will most likely be in the starting lineup beside them.
“Ben, Eddie, Kevin and Tom offer very good experience in the back line,” said D’Ambra of his veteran defenders. “They all have a good understanding of one another and they communicate well, which is extremely important. David and Daniel are excellent additions to our defense, and they have played very well thus far. I think they will be steady contributors for this team throughout the year."
Senior Greg O’Connell returns for his second year as the Hawks’ starting goalkeeper this fall. O’Connell played 17 full matches last season and earned a 1.38 goals against average and .721 save percentage to go with wins over Howard, Hartford, Central Connecticut, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, and George Mason. O’Connell also turned in five shutouts.
“Greg brings experience and consistency to our team defense,” said D’Ambra. “As a senior, we will need Greg to exemplify leadership from the back and help develop cohesiveness with his back line. I think Greg is capable of being one of the top keepers in the A-10 this year.”