FIU Men’s Soccer Season Preview: Eyes on a National Title

FIU Men’s soccer in preseason training. (Photo by FIU Athletics)

Paula Silva | Staff Writer

The 18th ranked FIU men’s soccer team is gearing up for their first season as part of the American Athletic Conference.

In 2021, the Panthers won the Conference USA regular season title, for the first time since 2015, and made an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Despite the success, the first rounds of both C-USA and NCAA tournaments proved to be challenging for FIU, losing in both competitions. 

Named the C-USA coach of the year in 2021 for his performance with FIU, Kyle Russell signed a 5 year contract extension to continue building the program. Since joining FIU, the results have been positive, setting new records, and getting results FIU hadn’t seen in over a decade. Russell’s ambition is fueled by discipline and the hunger to win three titles: the conference regular season title and tournament, alongside an NCAA title

“We talked about three trophies all the time, so this year, obviously, the biggest trophy is the national tournament,” said Russell in an interview. “But we’re going to make sure everybody understands that it starts with preseason”

Russell leading a pregame huddle. (Photo by FIU Athletics)

The main goal is winning championships, but Russell’s sole focus is on keeping it “one game at a time”. This mentality runs throughout the squad, keeping players motivated and helping them become the highest ranked program in Florida.

“We definitely want to be national champions, we know we have the quality,” said Panther newcomer Paulo Alves. “We know we have everything in our hands, but we got to prove it everyday on the pitch and every game.”

Several players from the 2021 squad have moved on from FIU. Notable losses include Goalkeepers Brison Moorhead and Grant Makela, defender Kareem Riley, midfielders Matias Barraza, who scored a goal against the FAU Owls last season, and Mauro Bravo who earned a spot in the MLS Next Pro league with Orlando City.

There are 13 new players joining the 2022 roster: five juniors, four freshmen, two sophomores, one senior, and one graduate student will represent FIU for the first time in their careers. 

Four new forwards, Canadian Simon Afrifa, brother of FIU forward Stephen Afrifa, Brazilians Alves, and Pedro Lucas, and Fumiya Shiraishi from Japan. 

“I always wanted to play at the highest level of soccer,” Alves said with a smile. “Talking to Coach Kyle and a couple of players, I knew it was the right place to be to reach the highest level” 

Three new midfielders join the squad from Europe. Andrew Bennett from England, João Domíngues from Portugal, and Julien Gastaldy from France. 

The backline received new reinforcements with 3 defenders joining. Two Danish defenders will call Miami home with Sander Kohberg and Lucas Christensen joining Brittain Gottlieb as new Panthers. 

Finally, there will be three new goalkeepers with Matt Levy, Peruvian Baltazar Sayan, and German Kevin Harr.

The 2022 FIU Men’s soccer squad. (Photo by FIU Athletics) 

With new faces joining the squad, players and coaches have expressed their enthusiasm with how well the team is getting along on and off the field.

“The guys come ready to train every day,” said goalkeeper Tyler Hogan, wiping sweat from his eyes. “The new guys come in, they don’t make excuses when they have to learn new things and everyone’s just kind of gelling really well” 

Russell said the squad spends off days together, often going to the beach or coaches’ houses to build a family feeling among the teammates and coaching staff, something he believes will aid them during their campaign for a national championship.

The season kicks off home on Aug 25, where the Panthers face the Akron Zips at FIU Stadium at 7p.m. Playing the Zips for the first time since 2019, which ended in a 1-1 draw, former FIU midfielder Andrew Booth scored the lone goal.

The Zips will be test for the Panthers. Russell said that they’re a powerhouse program and the exact opponents that FIU wants to face. With a difficult non-conference schedule, ranked in the top 10 most difficult schedules in the nation, Russell wants to become the best by beating the best. 

“Every game matters,” said Russell. “We won’t slip up on the lesser opponents, and we won’t be overwhelmed with the bigger name opponents.” 

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