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In 2016, men’s soccer won its first Ivy League title in 23 years.

Coming into the decade, expectations were not extremely high for the men’s soccer program. It had not earned an Ancient Eight crown in 17 years, Ivy League Player of the Year since 1993, and NCAA tournament berth since 1991.

In the 2010 season, the second of head coach Kevin Anderson’s career, the Lions were rather uncompetitive, finishing sixth in the conference. While the Light Blue had a three-game winning streak, those high points were matched with crushing losses. However, in a matchup against Syracuse University, the Lions pulled out a 2-0 shutout—one of just two wins with over a one-point difference that season—to claim the Mayor’s Cup trophy.

In 2011, the Light Blue captured three consecutive wins at the start of the season with dominance from then-junior forward Will Stamatis, but this rocket start was followed by four back-to-back losses before the team started facing Ancient Eight competitors. However, the Lions made a major jump on the Ivy table, finishing their season third in the league. Despite their 2011 victory, the next year the Lions failed to reach the top half of the conference standings.

According to the members of the team, the 2013 season was doomed by a sense of complacency, with the team ending that year having earned only a single Ivy win against Dartmouth, the only Ancient Eight team with a lower point value than the Lions. Despite the team’s new mentality, 2014 went down as another unsuccessful season for the Light Blue as it once again finished seventh in the league.

But those two seasons comprised the lowest point in the decade for Columbia, as it went on to raise itself to the top half of the conference standings the following season. The Lions performed more consistently than they had in previous years with a four-game winning streak that was not followed by a stream of losses but instead by play that remained competitive.

That season was preparation for 2016, when the Light Blue earned its first Ivy League title in 23 years—its 10th in program history—after a 4-0 shutout over Cornell. Led by then-junior forward Arthur Bosua, who netted a hat trick for the win, the team held onto an extremely powerful offense that was matched with superb defense.

In the end, the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Committee did not extend a bid to both Ivy League champions to participate in the tournament, so co-champion Dartmouth went on to represent the Ancient Eight.

However, that season will be remembered for its competitive performances and its 13-3-1 record. Then-sophomore keeper Dylan Castanheira tallied seven shutouts that season, a record he would continue to build on throughout his time with the Light Blue.

The 2017 team was able to practice harder and more efficiently due to the creation of the Bubble at Baker, an inflatable, heated structure over Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium that gave the soccer team the opportunity to practice and train at Baker Field during the winter months. Previously, the Lions were forced to either practice at Levien Gymnasium—which provides inadequate space—or brave the cold.

That extra preparation proved valuable as Columbia finished second place in the league, blanking 10 opponents—five of them consecutively. It was that hunger for the win and its No. 25 ranking in the nation that earned the Light Blue an at-large bid for the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament.

The tournament posed an opportunity for the Lions to prove themselves on a national stage, and they delivered. In a riveting double-overtime match, which saw Columbia trailing until the middle of the second period, the Light Blue’s defensive powerhouse Castanheira fended off shot after shot from William & Mary. After a header from defender Alex Bangerl, CC ’18, then-junior forward Kynan Rocks got the rebound and netted the game-winning shot, cementing the Lions’ first postseason matchup since 1990.

However, after defeating the Tribe, Columbia had to face an even tougher opponent in No. 1 Wake Forest. The Lions’ defense remained tight, with Castanheira fielding a series of shots on goal. But in the end, the Light Blue was unable to muster the offensive prowess it needed and finished its season in the second round of the tournament.

2018 was a time of change for the Lions, who had to reconfigure after the loss of the strong 2017 senior class. Senior stars like Bosua led the team offensively, collectively scoring over 50 percent of the Light Blue’s goals.

However, as it has proven itself capable of doing throughout the entirety of the 2010s, the Light Blue prevailed, pulling out a second-place finish in the Ancient Eight, which included a crucial 1-0 upset against Dartmouth. This highly-competitive season culminated in a 2-1 overtime loss to Cornell, costing the Columbia program the Ancient Eight crown.

Coming into this past season, the stakes were high for Columbia. The team that had produced amazing saves, consecutive shutouts, and nail-biting wins was unable to reach those expectations, falling to seventh in the league.

The Lions have traditionally been extremely strong in pre-conference play, but 2019 presented a team that did not win a match until the fifth game of the season. Missing key players from its former squad of Castanheira, Rocks, and Dylan Mott, CC ’19, the Light Blue was unable to perform at a competitive level.

The final match of the season was not a down-to-the-wire competition like that of 2018, but rather a complete blowout as the Big Red toppled Columbia 4-0.

Moving into the decade, the Light Blue will be losing seniors who have dominated the field throughout 2019, like forward Matthew Swain, defender Rory Madigan, forward John Denis, and midfielder Vana Markarian. However, with a young core in first-year midfielder Uri Zeitz and sophomore midfielder Sebastian Gunbeyi, there is hope for the Lions to reach their prime once again.

Guglielmo Vedovotto

A look at head coach Kevin Anderson

Men’s soccer head coach Kevin Anderson has always competed at the highest level both during his time on the field and in his coaching role, so he expects his team to do the same.

He began his soccer career at George Mason but left the Patriots after his sophomore season to become a member of the Southern Connecticut State University Owls. During his first season at SCSU, the team won the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer Championship.

Anderson spent the first five years of his professional soccer career moving from the Boston Storm to the Long Island Rough Riders to the Minnesota Thunder within the United States Interregional Soccer League. Anderson gained another championship under his belt as he and his Rough Rider teammates won the USISL championship in 1995. Three years later, his team had a championship berth yet again but it failed in the final. In his two years with the Thunder, he made 26 appearances and scored seven goals.

Later that year, Anderson was chosen seventh in the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft by the Colorado Rapids. In his two years with the Rapids, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Mutiny for higher selections in the third and second rounds of the 2001 and 2002 SuperDrafts, respectively

While Anderson made frequent appearances for Tampa between 2000-01, he was loaned to the Charleston Battery for the next two seasons before officially signing with the team in 2001. He finished his professional soccer career back with the Minnesota Thunder in 2003.

Throughout his time playing professionally, Anderson also coached men’s soccer at the high school and collegiate levels. He was an assistant coach for the Lions in the 1993 season and did not coach college soccer until he returned to his alma mater in 1998. Anderson’s journey with the Light Blue continued after his professional soccer career ended, as he came back to once again assistant coach between 2004-06. In the 2006 season, Anderson became acting head coach, but his short stint at the helm did not go smoothly, with Columbia failing to win a single match against Ancient Eight foes.

This was followed by two years of assistant coaching at Boston College, during which he oversaw an Eagles team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and received an NCAA tournament berth.

Anderson would make his final return to Columbia in 2009. In his first official year at the helm, the Lions finished last in the league but upset then-No. 15 Dartmouth with an impressive 2-0 shutout led by a group of seniors.

In the early years of his tenure, the Lions were riddled with inconsistency. Periods of extremely competitive and successful play would then be followed by weeks without goals or wins. However, even during this time, Anderson was strengthening the weak program. For 15 years, the Lions had not had three consecutive clean sheets, but they accomplished that feat during Anderson’s first year. Quickly, records were being overturned as the team continued to notch upsets and win streaks on a yearly basis.

Within his first seven seasons as head coach, Anderson created a winning culture, clinching the program’s first Ancient Eight crown in over two decades in 2016. What once was a bottom-dweller program became a regular within the top two of the Ivy table.

Under his tutelage, more Lions have received NCAA and Ivy honors and were equipped to pursue professional soccer. Anderson not only created a family out of his team but also molded it into one that has been able to excel where previous generations of Lions have failed through a mentality of well thought out soccer.

“In games, you don't get second chances,” Anderson said in a 2013 interview. “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.”

The professionalization of men’s soccer

Columbia is not known for producing professional athletes, but the two who traditionally come to mind are baseball players Lou Gehrig, who left Columbia College in 1923, and Sandy Koufax, GS ’55. However, in the past decade, the men’s soccer program has produced a litany of athletes whose careers have extended far beyond the times they donned light blue.

This began with midfielder Peppe Carotenuto, CC ’11, who was invited to the training camp of Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer. However, Carotenuto’s path eventually led him to medical school rather than to professional soccer.

The next year, midfielder Mike Mazzullo, CC ’12 made Columbia history by becoming the first member of the program to be drafted by an MLS team: the Toronto Football Club. Later that season, his teammate, forward Kofi Agyapong, who in 2013 transferred from Columbia to the Ohio State University, earned the honor to compete with the USL All-Tournament Team, an opportunity for young players to compete at the highest level.

However, the first Lion to truly take his career professional was midfielder David Najem, CC ’14. Najem had been a member of the New York Red Bulls Academy since he was only 14 and played with its U23 team throughout his time with the Lions. After graduation, he signed with Football Club Eintracht Bamberg, a German team. Najem spent two years competing in Germany before returning to New York as a member of the New York Red Bulls II, starting in each of the team’s playoff games in the 2016 season; the Red Bulls II won the USL championship that year.

His career continued to blossom as he signed with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2018, competed as a member of the Afghanistan National Team in 2019, and signed with New Mexico United in January of this year.

Defender Antonio Matarazzo, CC ’16, was selected for the 2015 Adidas MLS Player Combine, which brings together the top 59 players from the NCAA to play in front of the 20 MLS teams at the time. Matarazzo was drafted 48th and signed with Orlando City B; he was released from his contract at the end of the 2016 season.

The next year, two pro soccer players were created in defender Rhys Williams, CC ’17, and midfielder Andrew Tinari, CC ’17. Both were invited to a combine hosted by the New York Red Bulls. While neither received offers at the SuperDraft, Tinari was invited to training camp with Minnesota United Football Club, the newest MLS franchise at the time. However, Tinari followed a similar pattern as Najem, signing with the Red Bulls II—and scoring seven goals in the 2018 season—before signing with the Rowdies in 2019. In February of this year, he signed withNew Mexico United.

Williams also experienced a lot of relocating throughout his time in MLS. At first, he was chosen to compete for a slot on Orlando City Football Club’s reserve team. However, after graduation, he signed a professional contract with New York Cosmos B before joining the Real Monarchs. Williams’ career really began to take off when he became a player on Lansing Ignite in its inaugural season, making an appearance in 22 games. At the end of his first season in Michigan, Williams signed with South Georgia Tormenta.

After the 2017 season, two of the team’s captains successfully sought professional careers. Defender Alex Bangerl, CC ’18, played a showcase for the Red Bulls, but he ultimately joined Lansdowne Bhoys Football Club, an amateur team centered in Yonkers.

Forward Arthur Bosua, CC ’18, on the other hand, has become one of the Lions’ most notable professional soccer alumni. The then-senior was invited to the 2018 MLS Player Combine. He joined the ranks of the Long Island Rough Riders later that year. During his two years with the Rough Riders, he made 15 appearances and an impressive seven goals. His success continued when he signed his first professional contract with the Charleston Battery and made 32 appearances and six goals last season.

Haris Stamboulidis, CC ’19, decided to not compete with the Light Blue during his senior year after signing with Aris Thessaloniki Football Club of Super League Greece. Stamboulidis, who has Greek citizenship, finished his degree in the fall semester. He then signed with Extremadura Union Deportiva, a team in Spain in 2019.

International soccer was also the fate for the Lions’ goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira, CC ʼ18, who decided to forego his senior spring after earning a spot with MLS Cup Champions Atlanta Football Club. Castanheira’s career choice came as no surprise as he broke the Ivy record for career goals and has the program-high record for career shutouts at 25. Throughout his years at Columbia, he played with the Long Island Rough Riders. In Georgia, Castanheira made 21 appearances and was chosen by Football Club Dallas in the 2019 SuperDraft. However, despite signing a contract, his MLS rights were traded to Inter Miami CF in January.

During this decade, it was not only the players who experienced great successes. Rocco B. Commisso, SEAS ’71, Business ’75, and namesake of the Lions’ soccer stadium, became the new owner of the New York Cosmos in 2017 and ACF Fiorentina in 2019.

In 2018, Pellegrino Matarazzo, SEAS ’99 and older brother of Antonio, became the assistant coach of TSG Hoffenheim, a team of German Bundesliga, the highest league in Germany. Under his first season in leadership, Matarazzo helped coach his team to the Champions League, the most elite soccer league in all of Europe.


Game of the decade

Columbia men’s soccer has had its fair share of wins over the past decade, yet the team’s defining game over that period was not a triumph but a narrowly-lost matchup.

The Light Blue’s final game of the 2018 season was against Cornell. If the Big Red won, the Lions would finish second in the league behind Princeton. However, if Columbia was victorious, then the team would take home at least a piece of the Ancient Eight crown.

At the start of the match, the stakes were high as the Light Blue put pressure on the ball, giving up no corner kicks while earning six in the first period. A series of strong defensive plays followed, but the team was also plagued by an offense that could not sink the ball into the net. In the 25th minute, midfielder Francisco Agrest, CC ’19, was just a hair too wide for his corner kick, which would have given the Lions the lead. With another failed attempt on goal, the first half finished tied at 0-0.

The lack of offensive prowess continued through the second half as the Lions attempted to make shot after shot with no avail. This changed in the 59th minute, however, as then-first-year midfielder Sebastian Gunbeyi passed to then-junior midfielder John Denis down the wing on a breakaway.

Denis made his way into the box before taking his shot, which hit the Big Red keeper. Yet the direction of the ball was unchanged, and the shot sank cleanly into the back of the net.

The Lions took their lead in stride, keeping Cornell off possession of the ball, but in minute 73, Cornell’s John Scearce successfully volleyed the ball from just outside the corner of the box. Goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira, CC ’18, was unable to make the save as the shot landed into the bottom-right corner of the net. The game was now tied.

From that moment on, Columbia was not able to fend off the vicious Big Red offense as easily as before, putting pressure on Castanheira, who made four active saves—including a diving save and a double save—to keep the score even.

Overtime proved no easier for the Light Blue as both teams amped up their offensive prowess. However, Cornell broke away in the seventh minute of overtime to make a dominant shot that would hit the underside of the crossbar and sink cleanly into the net.

As much as the Light Blue tried to fight back, its efforts were in vain as the Lions fell 2-1, costing Columbia the Ivy League title.

The Lions did not get their second consecutive NCAA bid in 2018, nor did they win the Ivy crown. Head coach Kevin Anderson referred to these close matches and forever-uncertain standings as the “harsh reality” of soccer. However, this game represents the high-quality play and perseverance that the men’s soccer program had shown throughout the decade.

When speaking to Anderson about this game back in September, he simply said, “That was last season, this is this season. Things have changed.”

Sports Editor Lizzie Karpen can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @LizzieKarpen.

A Decade in Athletics Francisco Agrest Pellegrino Matarazzo Haris Stamboulidis Alex Bangerl Rhys Williams Andrew Tinari Antonio Matarazzo David Najem Kofi Agyapong Mike Mazzullo Peppe Carotenuto Vana Markarian John Denis Rory Madigan Matthew Swain Sebastian Gunbeyi Uri Zeitz Dylan Castanheira Rocco B. Commisso Arthur Bosua Soccer Kevin Anderson
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