With some of its toughest tests already in the rearview mirror, the Stony Brook men’s soccer team looks to pull off another upset against the conference’s top dog.
Despite being picked to finish last in the 2023 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) preseason poll, the Seawolves (1-3-1, 1-0-1 CAA) have not played like a last-place team. In two conference matches, they have blown out the defending CAA regular-season champions and drawn with the back-to-back titleholders. Stony Brook will now turn its attention to another team that has played above expectations: the Delaware Blue Hens (5-0-1, 1-0-1 CAA). Both clubs’ four points has them sharing the top spot in the CAA table alongside Charleston and Northeastern. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
Offensive turnarounds have been the story for both teams in 2023. Each side finished last year in the CAA’s bottom four in goals scored. This season, the Seawolves have the fourth-most goals per game in the CAA (1.8) while the Blue Hens lead the conference in goals per game (2.33).
Delaware forward Carlos Fernandez has spearheaded his team’s dangerous offense. Coming off an injury-shortened season, Fernandez has returned with fury, scoring six goals in as many matches this year. Right now, he leads the CAA in goals.
Another vital piece of the Blue Hens’ attack is forward Sam Donnellan. His three goals, two assists and nine shots are all second on the team. Fernandez and Donnellan are both larger forwards, which poses potential issues to the less-physical Stony Brook defense.
Other valuable offensive players for Delaware include forward Justin Ruth and midfielder Einar Hardarson. Ruth leads his team with three assists and has scored one goal. Hardarson has tallied one goal and a pair of assists.
The Seawolves’ backline has been switched around constantly this season. As head coach Ryan Anatol searches for his ideal defense, he has sent out four different combinations for his four-back scheme. The revolving door of defenders could be attributed to Stony Brook’s struggles on the backline, as it owns the second-worst defense in the conference.
However, the Seawolves put in a solid defensive shift in their last match. The group limited Hofstra to just one goal on the road, allowing it to salvage a point. The back four from that game consisted of midfielders Lorenzo Selini and Bas Beckhoven with defenders Sean Towey and Jon Jelercic, who each played all 90 minutes.
Overall, Stony Brook’s defensive struggles would be more evident if not for goalkeeper Edmond Kaiser. The Seawolves’ shot-stopper is fourth in the nation with 34 saves.
The Blue Hens’ defense is also improved from last season after conceding the most goals and goals per game in the CAA by a wide margin. This year, they sit at seventh in the conference in goals allowed per game at 1.33.
Three freshman acquisitions have come in and made an immediate impact in solidifying Delaware’s backline. Defenders Jan Schroeder, Sean Smith and T.J. Hastings are all first-year players who have started the majority of Delaware’s matches.
Behind those three is Delaware goalkeeper Eddie DeMarco. DeMarco ascended to the starter role this year after goalkeeper Adam Vik struggled in 2022. DeMarco has not fared much better, as he has made the second-fewest saves and ranks last in the CAA in save percentage this year.
Stony Brook’s renovated and dynamic attack will look to exploit the defensive flaws that Delaware has shown. The team has been less reliant on forward Jonas Bickus, who scored or assisted on nine of the team’s 16 goals in 2022. Forward Olsen Aluc is experiencing a breakout season and leads the team with three goals, seven shots on goal and 11 total shots. Midfielder Amit Magoz has carried over his strong performance from 2022, tallying a pair of goals and an assist through Stony Brook’s first five matches.
The team has also been sharing the ball very well. Beckhoven alongside forwards Caleb Danquah and Moses Bakabulindi co-lead the team with two assists each.
Despite getting off to a slow start, Bickus is still very involved on the attack. He scored his first goal of the season against Hofstra, which ended up securing the Seawolves a point. Bickus also has an assist and is third on the team with nine shots.
A victory for either team will ensure it at least a share of first place for the rest of the week.