After an extremely successful 2006 campaign that saw men’s soccer earn a national ranking and a berth in the Patriot League semifinals, Colgate has returned a solid core of players that includes two all-Patriot League first-teamers, senior defenseman and midfielder Dan Belke and junior goalie David Cappuccio as well as senior forward Eric Anton, last year’s scoring leader.
With a great squad in place, Colgate began its season last weekend with two extremely difficult games against 14th-ranked Northwestern and Northern Illinois at the Lakeside Classic in Evanston, Illinois.
Colgate started off well against Northwestern, but the Raiders gave up three goals during a dreadful 20-minute window in the first half. However, the Raiders regained their defensive composure that was evident last season and shut down Northwestern the rest of the game. Unfortunately, Colgate could not muster any goals of its own and lost 3-0.
“It was a tough loss, but it gave the guys a chance to see what it takes to play at the top level,” Head Coach Eric Ronning said. “I think we did not come out with the right amount of toughness or bite that we saw last year, but that is correctable. We lost focus during twenty-minutes in the first half, but our second half was a lot better as we played good defense and had some good scoring chances. It was a big learning experience for both coaches and players, which will help us later in the season.”
The Raiders could not rest for long, as they squared off against an excellent Northern Illinois squad two days later. The men were dealt a terrible blow early in the game when senior Eric Anton was given a questionable red card, but Colgate showed incredible toughness during the rest of the game. Colgate took a 1-0 lead in the 67th minute after junior Jimmy Stephens scored an excellent goal after an assist from first-year Steven Miller. The Raiders, however, let the lead slip away 53 seconds later when Chris Rufa scored for NIU. Colgate held on to get into overtime, but was defeated 2-1 after NIU’s Marcus McCarty scored off a free kick in the 99th minute.
It was a tough loss, but Coach Ronning saw a lot of positives out of the weekend.
“We played two really tough teams, but the team responded very well after losing to Northwestern,” he said. “We still have a long way to go, but we are learning a lot about ourselves and we are starting to see who can handle being in the starting lineup. A lot of guys who did not start last season are really stepping up and positive results will come. We will fix the mistakes and I have no doubt that we will be ready for our first two home games this weekend in Hamilton.”
Senior captain Dan Belke gave his thoughts on the weekend and the upcoming season.
“Even though we didn’t come out of the weekend with a win, it was still a great learning experience for [Colgate] playing against a top-25 team early in the season,” Belke said.”In the game against Northern Illinois, we battled for most of the game down a man and we still almost pulled off a win, showing the determination and quality of our squad.”
The team may have gotten off to a different start from last season, but the schedule is one of the hardest Colgate Men’s Soccer has ever seen. The Raiders have two very difficult games at home against Albany and Richmond this weekend, but Colgate is focused and ready to prove that they can beat the best in the nation.