PHILADELPHIA – Under the direction of ninth-year head coach Don D’Ambra, the Saint Joseph's men's soccer squad will open the 2018 campaign at William and Mary this Friday, August 24, with kickoff slated for 7:00 p.m. down in Williamsburg, Va. The Hawks’ home opener is set for Saturday, September 1 vs. Quinnipiac at 7:00 p.m., the first of eight regular-season matches to be played on Sweeney Field this fall.
Saint Joseph’s returns 17 Hawks, including eight starters from a season ago, and will sport a roster of six seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores, and 12 first-year players for the 2018 season. Senior defender Eddie McCusker returns for his second season of captaincy this fall while redshirt junior midfielder Lou Vilotti and redshirt junior defender Mike Fornaro have also been elected captains of the 2018 Hawks.
“We have a lot of new faces in the locker room this fall, including some very exciting players who will help our team right away,” said D’Ambra. “We feel we made the improvements in the areas we struggled last year. All of our returning freshmen have more experience and are more confident, and our upperclassmen have set the tone this preseason with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm that seems different from recent years. This is a close-knit group of players, and I believe they have a strong desire to fight for one another this season."
Saint Joseph's will play 10 non-conference matches to prepare for the 2018 Atlantic 10 conference slate. The Hawks will open the season with back-to-back road matches at William and Mary (Aug. 24) and Saint Peter’s (Aug. 28) before hosting Quinnipiac for the 2018 home opener on Saturday, September 1. SJU will then head to Stony Brook (Sept. 5) before hosting back-to-back matches against Sacred Heart (Sept. 8) and Navy (Sept. 11). The Crimson and Gray will close out the opening nine-match stretch of non-conference action with two of its final three on the road, at Manhattan (Sept. 15) and Fairfield (Sept. 22) with a home match vs. VMI sandwiched in between (Sept. 19). A late-season road contest against Philadelphia Soccer Six rival Drexel (Oct. 24) will complete the non-conference slate.
The Hawks will embark on their 32nd year in the Atlantic 10 Conference this spring, opening league action at Duquesne on Saturday, September 29. The Hawks will then host La Salle (Oct. 3) and Fordham (Oct. 6) back-to-back before heading south to face Davidson (Oct. 10) and George Mason (Oct. 17) on the road. SJU will close the regular season with two of three at home, hosting St. Bonaventure (Oct. 20), playing at Rhode Island (Oct. 27), and hosting Saint Louis (Sept. 31). SJU was predicted to finish 12th in a field of 13 teams, as voted on by the league’s 13 head coaches and announced on August 21.
The opening rounds of the 2018 A-10 Championship will run from November 3-4 at campus sites while the semifinals (Nov. 19) and title match (Nov. 11) will be played at Saint Louis University’s Hermann Stadium in St. Louis, Mo.
Live streaming ($) of all nine regular-season home games will be available via a subscription to ESPN+, ESPN’s new streaming platform and the new home for a majority of Atlantic 10 Conference live digital events. To sign up, please click here. Live stats will also be provided for all home games, at SJUHawks.com.
Leon Maric, a junior transfer out of the University of Virginia, will start up top on opening day. Maric played two seasons with the Cavaliers from 2016-17 and, towering at six-foot-five, has the potential to make an immediate impact from his very first minutes donning the Crimson and Gray.
Should the formation for a particular match require a second forward, freshman Frantz Pierrot will join Maric on the attack. Pierrot, who has played for numerous academy teams, including but not limited to the FC Boston Bolts, Seacoast United, and FC Westchester, most recently competed for Reading United AC of the Premier Development League.
Despite being new to SJU’s system, D’Ambra strongly believes that both Maric and Frantz will be impact players for the Hawks this fall.
“Leon is a true striker with excellent instincts around the goal,” said D’Ambra. “Coming from UVA, he has been playing at a good level, is ready to contribute immediately, and had a very good preseason camp. Frantz is a true freshman and is physically dominant on the field. He is working hard and has a really high ceiling, I'm looking forward to working with both Leon and Frantz this fall season.”
Junior Jarod Ramses ranked third among all SJU forwards last year in minutes for valuable playing experience while junior John Fritz and freshman Bryce Wallace bring intensity to the attacking third of the pitch.
80 percent of SJU’s starting midfield group from just a year ago returns for the 2018 campaign in the confident and physical sophomore quartet of 2017 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selection Ritchie Barry (2g, 2a), Alvin Dahn, Alan Kahlenbeck (1a), and Aidan Watkins (1g, 1a), who combined for 24 percent of SJU’s goal scoring efforts last year.
Lost to graduation is Matt Crawford, who led the team in scoring with 13 goals over the last two seasons.
Who will step up?
Starting central midfielders Barry and Watkins proved themselves alongside Crawford last fall, and a pair of Hawks in redshirt junior Lou Vilotti and freshman Garrett Lyons will battle it out for that third spot. After missing the 2016 to injury, the talented Vilotti came back to log significant minutes on the pitch in 2017, while newcomer Lyons is a versatile scorer who led the Interstate Athletic Conference in points over the last two seasons.
“I am really pleased with how Ritchie and Aidan are playing this preseason,” said D’Ambra. “They are more confident and have established better cohesiveness in the middle of the field. Alvin is one of the top 1-v-1 players in the conference and has really impressed me so far. Lou is healthy and looks very good and will be able to help us in the midfield while Garrett has made a great first impression this camp and will be able to help add depth in the midfield as well.”
Five Hawks are in the mix for outside midfield spots in returning starters Dahn and Kahlenbeck, returning junior midfielders Matt Mullock and Dontrim Namani, and senior Derek MacKinnon, who will make the transition from attacking forward to outside midfielder for the 2018 campaign. Namani appeared in 16 matches with six starts last fall, Mullock earned a batch of early-season starts and was the late hero in SJU’s overtime win over Manhattan and, a highly-motivated impact scorer in his own right, MacKinnon owns 14 career points on five goals and four helpers.
Senior Kyle Lochbihler has played an integral role in bringing a competitive spark and fresh legs off the bench over the course of the last two seasons while Daryus Lake, who earned the team’s Rookie of the Year nod in 2016, returns after being sidelined by injury last fall. Senior Kyle Millar and freshmen Alec Ghodsi and Chris Ogden will add additional depth and talent to SJU’s midfield group.
Experience is the name of the game for SJU’s defensive anchor as Eddie McCusker enters his fourth and final season as a starting defender for the Crimson and Gray. The experienced McCusker has started 48 of 51 total matches played over the last three seasons and has seen every minute of SJU’s last 33 matches, dating back to his sophomore season. The senior logged 1,709 minutes last fall as SJU’s defensive staple and will bring together the Hawks’ defensive unit this fall.
Mike Fornaro, a redshirt junior transfer out of Rutgers University who has trained with the Hawks since the spring offseason, will play alongside McCusker in SJU’s second central defensive slot.
“Mike has been an excellent addition to our back line,” said D’Ambra. “He works exceptionally well with Eddie and together, they both display great leadership.”
The co-captains will be joined out on the wings by sophomore returners David Grana and Daniel Morales. As freshmen last season, the pair did an exceptional job of stepping into their respective starting roles as outside backs and playing high-level soccer right off the bat, with their speed and physicality presenting SJU with opportunities to consistently push the ball up field.
“David and Daniel are both very intelligent players who have relentless work ethics, so they complement Eddie and Mike very well,” added D’Ambra. “The entire back line has been very organized this preseason, and I feel very comfortable with them thus far.”
The playing field for the goalkeeper position is as level as it can be as all three Hawk keepers enter their first year of competition this fall. Kyle Allan and Nick DeShong redshirted their freshman seasons while having the opportunity to work with and learn from veteran and recent graduate Greg O’Connell while Joseph Boehm comes to Hawk Hill a true freshman for the 2018 campaign.
Both DeShong and Boehm have excelled in preseason camp, and D’Ambra expects that their competitive drives will be key in the goalkeeper position this season.
“Joseph and Nick get along great and are pushing each other for playing time,” said D’Ambra. “Since they are both young and inexperienced at this level, it will be a work-in-progress, and I look forward to seeing how they both develop.”
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