The Stony Brook men’s soccer team on defense against Hofstra on Sept. 3. After starting 2-1, the team looks to have a strong first year in the CAA. FRANCESCA MEVS/THE STATESMAN

Coming off of a very promising 2021 season, the Stony Brook men’s soccer team will look to continue to trend upwards in 2022. However, they may find that task difficult given the circumstances surrounding this year’s team.

The Seawolves’ success seemingly came out of nowhere last year, as they hosted a home playoff game despite being projected to finish in ninth place before the season. They had not made the playoffs or finished over .500 since the 2018 season, but wound up going 8-6-1 and clinched the fourth seed in the conference. 

“The expectation of the program is to compete at the highest level,” head coach Ryan Anatol said in an interview with The Statesman. “When you look at what we did in the America East, we were always one of the top three or four teams in the time that I’ve been here. We never look at what the rankings are. We have expectations within the team and that is to compete for championships.”

However, that was in the America East. Now, the team belongs to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). The CAA boasts nine new conference opponents for Stony Brook to face and the unfamiliarity could pose a threat to them. Headlining those nine new opponents are their Long Island rivals: the Hofstra Pride. Hofstra came into the season ranked 17th in the nation and made a run to the third round of the NCAA tournament last year. The two faced off on Sept. 3, with the Seawolves upsetting Hofstra 2-1. Stony Brook is 2-1 (1-0 CAA) thus far and was projected to finish in eighth place this year.

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“Those expectations are going to be no different this year, going into another league that I think is going to be more competitive,” Anatol said. 

Offseason departures are another thing that may hurt the Seawolves this year. Midfielder Kori Cupid was regarded by Anatol as their best overall player in 2021, but has since graduated. Midfielder Gabriel Fernandes was their team captain last year and graduated, as well. Forward Aki Solvason was Stony Brook’s leading scorer last year and was entering his third year with the club but instead decided to go back home to Iceland. Luckily, the Seawolves still have some young pieces ready to take the next step and fill those voids.

It all starts with forward Jonas Bickus, who won the America East Rookie of the Year award last year while co-leading the team in goals. He is already doing more of the same for Stony Brook, as he posted his first-career multi-goal game last Monday against Saint Peter’s

The Seawolves also have a pair of sophomores who got regular playing time last year as freshmen: defender Iker Alvarado and midfielder Bas Beckhoven. The two of them are expected to play a larger role this year as the team looks to continue to improve.

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“I feel like as the season went on, I found my value in the team,” Beckhoven said. “I found out how I can impact the team better.”

Beckhoven played in the Netherlands with a local club this past summer and also worked out more in an attempt to improve his physicality. 

“The physical aspect is something that I learned a lot about in my freshman year,” Beckhoven said. “Over the summer, I worked very hard to stay physically strong so I would be ready for the season.”

The Seawolves still have some veteran talent left over from last year’s squad. Midfielder Trausti Birgisson was the team leader in assists last year and is back to help facilitate the offense. Defenders Rondell Payne, Evan Peters and Sebastian Rojek are all reliable players who were starters for all of last year. Forward Selcuk Khaveci was a frequently-used reserve last year and he had the third-most shots on goal for the Seawolves in 2021. Another forward, Kameron Blaise, is vying for regular playing time and has already scored a goal for the team in 2022. 

There are younger players who will play larger roles for the Seawolves this year, too. Midfielder Bruno Penney became the first freshman to start a game for Stony Brook this year. Midfielders Amit Magoz and Moses Bakabulindi are both sophomores who the team acquired this past offseason, and Anatol is high on both of them. Magoz was in the opening day starting lineup, while Bakabulindi started the home opener and scored his first goal. Anatol also expressed higher expectations this year for midfielder Trevor Harrison and forward Sean Towey.

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“They have now had a full season under their belts,” Anatol said. “We expect them to do more.”

Anatol believes that the depth of this team is its biggest strength. 

“It’s hard to pick a starting lineup,” Anatol said. “I think we have a lot more depth than we did last year.”

Defense was key to Stony Brook’s success last year, and goaltending had a lot to do with it. Goalkeeper Edmond Kaiser had a good season last year despite a career-low save percentage. He won two America East Defensive Player of the Week awards last year while posting a career-best four clean sheets. He played well in their season opener at LIU, but is currently nursing a knee injury and has missed the last two games. Anatol said that the team expects him to return in the “not-too-distant” future.

In his place, goalkeeper Curtis Copenhaver helped lead his team to victory over Saint Peter’s. 

“Curtis is very good,” Anatol said. “He’s got good experience behind Eddie [Kaiser]; he’s played in some games. I was confident and comfortable in putting Curtis in the starting lineup and I thought he did a very good job.”

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The defense was strong last year more often than not, and it helped lead the team to their successful season. The 2021 team held its opponents to just a .389 shot on goal percentage. With most of the backline and midfield returning to the team this year, it can be anticipated that the defense will be good once again. The offense has already shown signs of improvement from last year, as its four-goal performance against Saint Peter’s was the most in a single game since Oct. 2018. 

If the offense can continue to improve and the defense can repeat its 2021 performance, then the Seawolves will stand a chance in the 2022 season. It will be tougher for them to make the CAA tournament, as only four teams make it. The CAA had seven teams finish .500 or better last year, but lost one of those teams when James Madison left the conference. 

The Seawolves were able to host a home playoff game in a conference that sent two teams to the NCAA tournament and had three 10-win teams last year. That is encouraging, as it shows that they have dealt with great competition before. The team may fare well this year in the CAA, but only time will tell.

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