After finishing a disappointing year with a loss to arguably its most challenging opponent of the 2012 season—nationally ranked Ivy champ Cornell—the men’s soccer team opens this year with perhaps its toughest test of the 2013 season.
Friday night, it faces No. 2 Creighton. The Lions will also play Nebraska-Omaha on Sunday before their home opener six days later.
“In games, you don’t get second chances,” Lions head coach Kevin Anderson said. “In preseason and in training, we get to stop, we get to review. ... Like in any game, the game continues, the game slows, and your choices and decisions really matter.”
“These are real scenarios now,” he said.
Creighton is Columbia’s first top-10 opponent since 2008, when the Lions hosted—and defeated—then-No. 6 University of California, Santa Barbara. The Bluejays (2-0), who advanced as far as the Final Four in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, are off to a strong start this season. They have already defeated a pair of ranked opponents—No. 7 Notre Dame in an exhibition and No. 9 Tulsa in their season opener.
They should provide a very difficult test for a Columbia team with plenty of uncertainty. After the Light Blue finished a goal shy of an Ivy championship in 2011, the team lost nine players—eight seniors and then-junior Will Stamatis. The All-Ivy striker, after taking 2012 off thanks to injury, returns this season to help an offense that mustered more than a single goal only twice all season.
Anderson said that he is excited to see where the team is over the next couple weeks. “It’s about quality. ... It’s the quality of the work at that speed,” he said.
On the defensive side, the Lions received replacements from their youth. Sophomore Kyle Jackson quickly became the starting goalkeeper last year and was given an All-Ivy honorable mention at the end of the season, as was fellow sophomore and defensive midfielder Antonio Matarazzo. Sophomore right back Bryce Terrill was also a lineup staple during his rookie season.
However, Columbia needs to find one more strong defensive player to replace departed second-team All-Ivy center back Quentin Grigsby. Possibilities include four freshmen defenders—one of whom is coincidentally from Omaha—as well as junior Jack Gagné, who frequently lined up in the midfield last season.
“We’ve grown, these guys have more experience, they’re older, they’ve got all these games under their belt, and they’ve come back better than when they left, which is always the key ingredient,” Anderson said.
On Sunday afternoon, the Lions face Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks, after a promising draw in an exhibition against Creighton, dropped their first two games of the season, including the first-ever match on their new field.
The Light Blue plays its home opener the following Saturday against Iona.