By Nicholas Poblete/Asst. Sports Director
The men’s soccer team endured a star-studded Spring season, playing against professional teams, preparing for the 2018 Fall season.
“The Spring, as difficult as its been, has been very beneficial for the staff and for the players,”
head coach Kevin Nylen said. “The players probably think that we as a staff get on them a little more in the Spring, and that’s the truth, solely for us to be prepared for day one of preseason.”
The Panthers played their first game of the Spring at the FIU Soccer Stadium, on Jan. 15, when they were defeated by Argentine giant, Club Atléico River Plate, 4-0. The team from Buenos Aires, Argentina, held its preseason training at the Modesto Maidique Campus.
“They were top class, very gracious in how they treated us. For our first Spring game it was an unbelievable experience,” Nylen said. “It was a great start, regardless of the result. It was invaluable for our guys to play at that level, to defend and to close down spaces, to see how physically some of these guys are.”
The Panthers played against two Major League Soccer sides. On Feb. 3, in Melbourne, Florida, FIU played against Minnesota United FC, losing 4-1. Their second MLS contest, against Orlando City FC, in Lake Mary, Florida on March 11, resulted in a 5-0 loss.
“It’s great to play against teams that have guys who have come through college and play against some guys you know,” Nylen said. “You’re going to defend a little bit longer at times and you’re going to see how guys physically live up to the challenge, how they do with overloads, how they do with certain formations and how we react as a group.”
Their demanding Spring season continued as they faced United Soccer League side St. Louis FC in Melbourne, Feb. 18, drew 1-1.
On March 3, the Panthers played against Palm Beach Atlantic, an NCAA Division II, in West Palm Beach, Florida, playing to a 1-1 tie.
Despite not getting a victory in the Spring, Nylen said that the coaching staff weren’t focused on whether or not the team could pick up some wins, rather, they wanted to implement tactical ideas that would carry on to the Fall.
“The pro teams should beat us, but let’s worry about us and focus on what were doing. I know the overall perception is that we’ve lost a lot and conceded goals, I’m alright with that, because our guys went out and put a shift in every single time.”
For the men’s soccer team, not only did the Spring allow them to play against high-caliber teams, but, it also helped the team come together and build chemistry after losing seven seniors, including captains Paul Marie and Donald Tomlinson.
“We lost seven guys who were massive to this program, who gave everything they had. Some were vocal leader, some were quite leaders, some were leaders by example, but, they all had experience,” Nylen said. “You can’t replace them, but we’re going to continue to develop the guys we have here. Guys will now be forced and asked to become more of a leader in their own way.”
Newcomers Nicholas O’Callaghan and Caleb Franke completed their first season as Panthers, getting to know their new teammates, coaching staff and campus. O’Callaghan is a senior left defender who comes from Elon University with one year of eligibility left. Franke, a freshman midfielder, played at the Orlando City Academy and Olympia High school in Orlando, Florida.
“Its been really advantageous for both of them to come into the team during the Spring. They fit in well with the guys. They are great human beings and great soccer players,” Nylen said.
Following such a great Fall season, the Spring season, which included three defeats and two ties, humbled the team, Nylen said. The Panthers registered an overall record of 12-2-4 during the 2017 Fall season, losing in the semi final of the Conference USA tournament against Charlotte 49ers and falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Duke University.
“You’re on top in the Fall, didn’t lose a game, went undefeated in the regular season and didn’t lose till the conference semi final in December,” the head coach said. “You do well and you think everything is set. So now you come back and you lose games, and that to me has been a really good lesson for this group. This group has a lot of soccer in us.”