The (new) pieces to Riddle’s puzzle
Men’s soccer team hopes to build on youth
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 00:08
With a new coach comes a new strategy. And a new strategy must be coupled with players who have the necessary skillset, and attitude, to achieve the desired goal.
The new men’s soccer head coach, Stu Riddle, didn’t see the pieces he had hoped to inherit in the spring. Just a few months later, his confidence is back.
The men’s soccer team returns only eight players from last season. More than half the players on the roster (12 of 23) are freshmen, and they represent exactly what Riddle is looking for – a fresh start.
Though it is not known why he left, Richard Craven, who tied for the team lead with 10 points last year and would have been a senior, is now playing for Division II Clayton State in Georgia. Out of the 17 student-athletes from the 2012 team eligible to return, only eight are part of the 2013 squad.
“I think it’s only natural when you take over a program which has been underachieving to analyze the players and look at who we thought could and couldn’t help us moving forward,” Riddle said. “Unfortunately, some decisions had to be made, but we are happy with the group we have now and are pretty certain this group can be one that can move us forward pretty quickly.”
The Bulls underperformed last season despite returning six seniors who had helped the team go .500 in the previous year. However, that 5-11-1 season last year, which featured just 12 total goals, seems to be a distant memory with the attitude and excitement emerging from the Buffalo players.
“This summer, everyone worked so hard,” said sophomore defender Jake Jacobs. “Boys I didn’t know had it in them worked really, really hard and I didn’t recognize anyone. Everyone looked totally different; they were stronger, quicker and had good experiences over the summer.”
The starting roster consists of two seniors, three juniors and six sophomores. The 12 incoming freshmen make the Bulls one of the youngest teams in the Mid-American Conference and provide opportunities for new faces to not only be seen on the field, but to be heard in the locker room.
“The coaches [told the freshmen] before the season, ‘There are so many of you, some of you are going to have to step up and become big-time leaders for the team,’” said freshman center-midfielder Russell Cicerone, who scored three goals in Buffalo’s two exhibition contests. “Throughout preseason and all over the summer, you could tell the young guys were up for the challenge.”
This summer provided the opportunity to build chemistry on and off the field. They enjoyed activities such as movie nights, eating together and lounging in the dorms.
The pride that goes along with being a Bull is returning to the soccer program, according to the team – it’s a feeling Jacobs said wasn’t around last season.
“One of the biggest differences is if you go around campus and ask about the men’s soccer team, I think they are going to have only positive things to say,” Jacobs said. “Last year, I couldn’t say that to you. I think we are conducting ourselves in the right way – very professional.”
The Bulls will rely on a newcomer in net as well: junior transfer Waleed Cassis, who played D-II soccer at California State, Los Angeles. Cassis anchored a Buffalo goalkeeping unit that recorded shutouts in both exhibition games. Cassis knows there will be a new level of soccer, however, once the season officially begins.
“We won both scrimmages, but I don’t think that means much,” Cassis said. “[It] just means we have it right so far, but obviously the competition will be stronger when the season starts Friday, but we are going to come out and just play the way we play as coach Stuart has been teaching us.”
Although Riddle is excited about the team’s expectations, he doesn’t want the players to get ahead of themselves. He stressed the importance of keeping the goal of “winning the next game” and not looking ahead. Riddle doesn’t expect to play the role of a miracle worker in his first season. Instead, he is looking for game-by-game improvement.
With a young squad, a long season can seem overwhelming, so maintaining a ‘one game at a time’ attitude will likely help keep the Bulls in the moment.
“I think we’ve really tried to temper the mood and be realistic,” Riddle said. “Everyone’s excited with what we’ve done so far, but everyone has to be realistic. When the lights go on and the season opens, there will be a different feel to it from preseason and we have to be realistic and know we maybe aren’t as good as some people think we are right now.
“But that’s only natural when you have a young team … the time will come in a couple of years when we can set some lofty goals, but I think right now we just have to focus on that next game.”
Buffalo opens its season on the road at St. Bonaventure on Friday. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. The team’s home opener is Sunday against Vermont at 3 p.m.