Men's soccer team has legitimate national ambitions

“We don’t have any anxieties that we’re not going to score enough goals; our strongest goal scorers are back,” said Co-head Coach Peter Gooding. “The more significant issue for us is, can we improve our defensive play? Too often last season our defense made mistakes that they shouldn’t have made.”

In order to solidify the backfield, Amherst is hoping to infuse its core of veteran defenders with both new faces and old friends. Returning to the defense this year will be Andrew Syfu ’05, the blazing fast two-sport star who was named to the NSCAA/Adidas All-New-England Men’s Soccer Team as a third-team selection. The big quad-captain defender Michael York ’04 will start alongside Syfu and bring three years worth of experience to the field for the Jeffs. Also looking to eat up minutes on defense are veterans Matthew Langione ’05 and Jeremy Kelley ’06.

Two freshmen in particular are likely to contribute on defense in their rookie seasons.  The Connecticut-bred Robert Madden and local boy Michael Quirk should get their share of playing time and will hopefully plug some of the holes that hurt the Amherst D so much last year.

Undoubtedly, the wild card for the Jeffs defense this year will be Brad Coffey ’04.  Coffey, who played in 10 games for Amherst during his rookie season three years ago, will try to return to the lineup after missing the past two seasons to a leg injury and subsequent surgical mishaps. A healthy Coffey could be huge for Amherst.

While questions about the defense abound, the Jeffs are confident that their offense will produce. Despite losing three of their top seven scorers to graduation (Chris Kane, Carlo Valdesolo and Roger Boulay), Amherst doesn’t lack firepower. Headlining the Jeffs’ attack this year will be forward Joe Gannon ’06, the 2002 NESCAC Rookie of the Year. Gannon accounted for 29 points in his rookie campaign.

Also looking to pierce the scoring column will be quad-captain forwards Jeff Cantwell ’04, who tallied seven times last year, and Frank Perry ’04, Amherst’s active leader in scoring (36 points). Joaquin Walker ’05 also brings 11 points to the Jeff attack.

“We have a number of players who can score goals,” said Gooding. “We are a very explosive team.”

Amherst took its biggest off season hit in the midfield, yet there’s still plenty of talent to go around. Quad-captain Tim Canon ’04 and his five points will anchor the midfield unit, with help from sophomores Christian Alexander ’06 (three goals) and Ian Lovett (five points). Senior midfielders Valentin Burlacu, Josh Holt and Vivian Johnson should also contribute after solid 2002 seasons as reserves.

With so much experience in the lineup, the Jeffs are hoping to begin the 2003 season just as they finished the 2002 campaign-but not how they began. On October 5, 2002, the Amherst men’s soccer team lost to Middlebury College 2-0, dropping the Lord Jeffs to 1-3 in conference and leaving some to doubt whether or not the team could make a playoff push. The loss, however, did not doom the Jeffs but rather fueled them the rest of the way.

The team closed out the regular season with five consecutive NESCAC victories, including wins over Wesleyan University and Williams, securing Amherst outright possession of the Little Three crown.

In the first two rounds of the NESCAC tournament, Amherst beat Tufts University and Bowdoin College-two tough opponents to whom the Jeffs had fallen earlier in the season-to qualify for the championship game.  Unfortunately, the Williams Ephs bested the Jeffs 3-0 to win the 2002 NESCAC championship.

On the strength of its late-season surge and march through the playoffs, Amherst was given an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Jeffs beat SUNY-Cortland in their first round game before succumbing to St. Lawrence University in the Sweet Sixteen to close out the season.

This year, though, the Jeffs are hoping to advance farther. “We undoubtedly have enough talent to win on a daily basis, and we certainly have the talent to challenge for the national championship,” said Gooding. “We have the right blend, and we have a lot of experience.”

If the Jeffs’ conference schedule this year seems familiar, don’t be surprised; it’s identical to last year’s. Key dates include early-season matchups against Tufts and Bowdoin, and contests against Wesleyan and Williams late. The men begin their season on Sept. 6 when Salve Regina University comes to town.