Aug. 24, 2006
Fairfield, CT - At the beginning of the 2005 season the Pioneer men's soccer program was in a state of change. There was a new coach, a slew of new players and a group that hadn't experienced much success in previous years. SHU surprised everyone, including themselves, in posting a school record seven wins and clinching their first ever NEC tournament berth.
Head coach Joe Barroso was pleasantly surprised with how quickly his team came together in 2005. "In the beginning of the season I didn't expect to be in the playoffs, but as the year went on I could see we had the ability to get there," Barroso said.
The Pioneers resurgence, from garnering just one point in conference play in 2004 to 15 points last season, was the second biggest single season turnaround in Northeast Conference history. Now, after last year's record setting campaign, expectations are high for the Pioneers as they get set to begin the 2006 season this weekend.
The Pioneers chances for another run to the playoffs are bolstered by a strong core of returning players on both sides of the ball. Up front, sophomore Jason Tessitore (Ansonia, CT) returns to lead the attack that he dominated last year. A first team All-Northeast Conference selection, Tessitore tied for the league lead among NEC freshman with eight goals and ranked third overall in the conference. He also finished fourth in the league with 17 points. His eight tallies were by far the most of any Pioneer.
"Jason had a great last year and because of that he's going to be a marked man this year," Barroso said. "But, he's stronger and in better shape now then a year ago, so he should be able to handle it."
Just as vital to the Pioneer success is their defense, led by sophomore goalkeeper Matthew Jones (Stoke-on-Trent, England). Jones stormed onto the scene last fall, starting every game in his rookie season and posting a 7-7-4 record with a 1.01 goals against average. He posted seven shutouts and allowed just one goal in the final five games of the regular season as the Pioneers made their push to the playoffs. His play earned him second team All-NEC honors as well as a nod to the NSCAA All-New England Men's Soccer Second Team.
"I think Matt is the best goalkeeper in the conference, Barosso said. "His experience playing in England growing up put him ahead when he came here. He has the potential to become a star at this level and go on to play professionally."
In front of Jones the Pioneers return a defensive squad that includes All-NEC second team member Anthony Anzevui (New Castle, England). The sophomore led a group that surrendered just five goals in the final nine games of the season, during which SHU was unbeaten in eight straight games as they vaulted into the playoffs. Also returning in the backfield are sophomore Jonatan Allback (Gothenburg, Sweden) and David Backman (Gothenburg, Sweden). Barroso needed only word to describe his back four on defense: "solid."
Up front Sacred Heart welcomes back to experienced players to attack with the young phenom, Tessitore. Seniors Gustavo Netto (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and Nick Loyd (Plymouth, MN) return for a final go round in the red and white. Loyd was second on the team in 2005 with six points, tallying two goals and two assists. Meanwhile Netto had two markers and added and an assist. Also back is sophomore Luke Gagliardi (North Branford, CT), who netted two goals and assist last season.
For the second straight year, Barroso will welcome a strong recruiting class with freshmen he expects to contribute immediately. Jesper Fredriksson (Gothenburg, Sweden) will play up front alongside Tessitore. Barroso expects him to be a perfect wingman for the attack. "Jesper is a big target who can take some pressure off Jason and he'll be a good striker," Barroso said.
In the midfield the Pioneers welcome a pair of freshman from Serbia, Svetozar Gladic (Novi Sad, Serbia) and Nemanja Filimonovic (Belgrade Serbia). "They are both very sound technically," Barroso said. "They will help us a lot with possession and ball control."
Overall Barroso is happy with the makeup of his squad. "I think we are deeper then last year, especially on offense."
The Pioneers will once again play a challenging schedule, with 10 road games and just six home contests on the schedule. They open their schedule Friday, August 25th with a visit to Providence. After a trip to Iona on August 30th, SHU plays its home opener on September 9th against Maine, followed by a home game with Holy Cross on September 12th. The Pioneers will participate in the Nike Soccer Classic in Green Bay, WI September 16-17.
The Northeast Conference schedule gets underway September 29th when the Pioneers welcome Long Island to Campus Field. SHU will also host St Francis (PA), St. Francis (NY) and Robert Morris in NEC play. They will visit Fairleigh Dickinson, Central Connectiuct, Quinnipiac, Mount St. Mary's and Monmouth.
The NEC is traditionally a deep soccer league and Barroso expects this year to be no different. "The conference is seven or eight deep and it should go down to the final few games to see who makes the playoff again," he said.
The Northeast Conference Tournament takes place November 3rd and 4th. With their mix of returning veterans and incoming freshman, the Pioneers are planning on making a return trip to the playoffs.