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ITHACA, N.Y. — This season marks two significant milestones in Big Red Soccer history: Exactly two decades from this fall, Dave Sarachan led Cornell to the Ivy League title; and Dan Wood did the same 40 years ago – Cornell’s first ever Ivy championship.
In 2015, the question is can Coach Jaro Zawislan replicate the success of his predecessors?
Lessons From 2014
Cornell finished 4th in the Ivy League last season; a satisfactory outcome, but by no means the desired one. The team tamely dropped two games at home toward the end of the season against Princeton and Dartmouth, which was uncharacteristic of an otherwise strong season.
Two flaws stand out from 2014: there was a marked over-reliance on Conor Goepel to create and score goals, and there was a lack of any real, consistent attacking threat. Both of these are related in a way because Goepel wasn’t at his best, so the Big Red didn’t know who to turn to for inspiration.
There was no lack of depth in the attack, but, without Goepel, the team would struggle to create and finish off chances. Due to repeated squad rotation over the season, there was also no consistent attacking partnership formed within the team that would deliver week in, week out.
The 2014 team included seven seniors, four of whom were crucial first-team players. The defensive duo of Devin Morgan and Peter Chodas, along with goalkeeper Zach Zagorski – who were collectively largely responsible for Cornell’s stellar defensive record last season – all graduated in May. Atticus DeProspo and Tyler Conway, who often competed for a midfield position in the first team, will also need able replacements. Although we didn’t see much of him last season, Ian Panzica provided much-needed competition for the goalkeeping spot. The biggest individual loss, though, is probably that of Conor Goepel. The attacker was at the center of the majority of Cornell’s offensive plays last season and provided the team with vital points due to several match-winning goals.
However, it looks as though Jaro Zawislan has these gaps covered. The seven outgoing seniors have been replaced with almost like-for-like seven newcomers, six of whom are freshmen. Rhys Moller has been brought in to challenge Mitchell Meyer for the goalkeeping spot and eventually take over the #1 jersey some time down the line. Ryan Bayne is joined by Duff Bedrosian – an incoming junior transfer – at the back, perhaps to take over the voids left by Morgan and Chodas. Ryan Watters and Walter Prince provide attacking options from midfield: a role that Goepel and Conway mastered during their time at Cornell. Coach Jaro has also elected to strengthen his midfield by recruiting two versatile playmakers in the forms of Jimmy Putko and Matthew McCarthy.
Depth in attack is the one thing that stands out when one looks at the Cornell 2015 roster. The team lost no out-and-out forwards from last season, which means that there are at least six forwards from 2014 that now have one more year of experience under their belt and a better understanding among themselves.
The major difference between professional and collegiate soccer is the amount of change that takes place between seasons. Every year, collegiate teams are bound to lose players to graduation, which makes it relatively tougher to breed consistency and build partnerships within the squad. However, with no forwards leaving, and all of them quite experienced already, this might be the year that the Big Red’s front line finally clicks and fires.
It’s quite a different picture at the back for Cornell compared to last season. Of the first-choice back five that turned Berman Field into a (semi-)fortress for oppositions’ attacks in 2014, only two remain – Eric Nuss at left back and Ralph Lee Price at center back. This magnitude of immediate change can be especially damaging when it comes to defense since defensive players are rotated less often. Shaking up the back five to this extent in one go could be dangerous for the Big Red in 2015. That being said, it will be fascinating to watch how Zawislan copes with the loss of three defensive players and leaders in Zagorski, Chodas, and Morgan.
What to Expect
Interestingly, there is only one senior on the 2015 squad. This is definitely a period of transition for the team, as they try to cope with the loss of four vital starters from 2014. While the 2015 team might not produce the best results, there is a distribution of experience that is perfect for breeding a golden generation. A year from now, there will be no less than fourteen seniors, including some of whom are already regulars on the team.
Personally, I believe that Zawislan will use this season as a dress rehearsal for the 2016 season. With the combined experience of fourteen seniors and five juniors, the Big Red could have a real shot at the Ivy League title next year. While the prospect of winning the Ivy League this time around seems far-fetched, a reasonable target would be to at least hold on to last year’s 4th place, and perhaps challenge for 3rd.
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