UB men’s soccer enters MAC play peaking at right time

Bulls have won two in a row

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The Buffalo men’s soccer team is peaking at the right time.

After a seven-game winless streak, the Bulls (5-4-3) are entering Mid-American Conference play coming off two consecutive victories in which they scored a total of eight goals and allowed zero.

Head coach Stu Riddle said the team finally began to “click” on the field, which allowed them to improve as they entered October.

“The team is coming together at the right time,” Riddle said. “I think the problem mid-season was that we weren’t have the good luck we needed. At the end of games, we would have coaches coming up saying, ‘We don’t know how we won that one,’ and it was frustrating.”

The Bulls will start MAC play hosting the No. 8 team in the country, Akron (8-2-1), on Friday at UB Stadium. Buffalo was in position to make the MAC Tournament last season after 1-0-2 start to conference play, but finished the season with two losses in which it was outscored 7-0. In Year Three of the Riddle era, Buffalo may finally be ready to take a step forward as a program.

Last Saturday, the Bulls defeated St. Bonaventure (1-10-1) 6-0 in their best offensive showing of the season. With the victory, the Bulls claimed the Big 4 Shield, a tournament between the four major colleges in Western New York, for the first time. For Riddle, it was important for the Bulls to capture the Shield to outright prove the program’s upward development.

“Again, everything’s coming together finally,” Riddle said. “Whether it was poor closing or bad luck, we didn’t get those results earlier in the season. Just a week out from conference play, getting the [St. Bonaventure] game and the reward was great. It was good to claim the Shield for the players and the program.”

Heading into conference play, the Bulls offense is balanced, but led by junior midfielder Russell Cicerone. The standout has a team-leading 22 points and eight goals. Behind Cicerone, sophomore forward Scott Doney has 13 points and junior midfielder/defender Braden Scales has 10 points.

Cicerone is currently on a four-game scoring streak, tallying two points in each game and registering a seven-point game in the victory over St. Bonaventure – the best game of his career. He said despite leading the team in points and goals, it’s been the offensive ability of his teammates that makes the team dangerous.

“There’s been times where teams have double-teamed me and added an extra player or two on me to try to stop the offense, but with the guys Stu [Riddle] brought in, we’ve been able to keep the offense flowing and the results are there,” Cicerone said.

For the all of the team’s recent offensive success, it’s the defense that has helped the Bulls reach another level.

A young unit, the Buffalo defenders were still adjusting early in the season. But with back-to-back shutouts, the defense may finally be figuring things out.

Buffalo has gotten solid contribution from its defense, as juniors Daniel Cramarossa and Alec Fisher and the sophomore trio of David Enstrom, Nick Forrester and Fox Slotemaker have all registered at least a point and have solidified the depth of Buffalo’s defensive unit. Especially Forrester.

“The biggest thing I had to improve on was working with guys I’ve never played with before,” Forrester said. “It was a lot of learning in the beginning – learning the routes and combinations that we play, it was some adjustments at the beginning, but slowly, we’ve gotten them and things have begin to come along.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Joseph Kuta has started in net the past two games and shutout the opponent both times. He has just a 0.71 goals against average in four games this season.

With conference play coming up this week, Riddle wants to keep things in order and work on the team’s development. He wants to keep on nit-picking the small details. He wants to work on the “small things.”

“We’ve worked on everything, so it’s tough to pick one goal in particular,” Riddle said, “but our goal is just to do the small things and continue to prepare well. By continuing to do that, we’ll continue to play well as we head into conference play.”

Quentin Haynes is the senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.