After dispatching Manhattan with relative ease on Wednesday for its second win in a row, the men’s soccer team (2-2) will face a stiffer test on Saturday at defending CAA champion Northeastern (2-2-2).
The Light Blue’s awakening offense, which scored once against No. 5 Creighton in its season opener, will be tested even more severely by the Huskies’ defense. Last year, the Huskies allowed only 0.7 goals per game, ranking eighth in the country. Through six games this season, Northeastern is averaging one goal per game, although over its past three games, it has allowed just a single goal.
Columbia is coming off back-to-back wins at home. The Lions beat Iona 2-1 on Saturday before beating Manhattan 3-0 four days later. Senior midfielder David Najem picked up goals in both games and has three on the season.
He is not the only offensive standout—several freshmen have made their presences felt as well. Forward Nicholas Pappacena has consistently been able to generate chances and has an assist, while midfielder Andrew Tinari has two. And on the defensive side, Rhys Williams has already picked up his first goal as a Lion, while fellow backs Louie Maldonado and Joe Morris have each received plenty of playing time as well.
“We have a lot of quality with the young guys,” Najem said. “The coaches keep telling us how much depth we have, and we see it every day, every training session. It’s very competitive.”
In order to integrate the young players into the lineup, some veteran players had to move around. Najem was moved from his customary true midfield spot to more of a wing attacking position, and the team has benefited offensively, with Najem, Pappacena, and Tinari making for a particularly slick trio.
Meanwhile, with the graduation of three regular defenders and the arrival of several talented but inexperienced defenders, junior Jack Gagne and senior David Westlake have each been playing a lot of center defense. Gagne, a natural defender, frequently played midfield last season, while Westlake only got into regular action last year.
“The adjustment was last season, when I was put out there and I did my best,” Gagne said. “But I definitely feel more confident and more comfortable in my usual spot.”
Gagne, Westlake, and the Lions’ other defenders may not be as challenged by the Huskies as their teammates in the midfield and up front. While Northeastern has scored seven goals in six games this season, five of those goals came in a single game against Fairfield. If the Huskies do manage to break through the Lions’ defense, they will have to face sophomore goalie Kyle Jackson who has played well this season.
“This is our last season, we’re trying to push forward, and the juniors and sophomores and even the freshmen, they’re right there behind us,” Najem said. “We have a common goal. We’re sticking together as a team very well, and moving forward every day.”