By Katie Faulkner
With the official start of the St. Bonaventure men’s soccer season looming, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the ability and mental toughness of this team.
With a 1-15 record last year, the Bonnies needed to make changes throughout the entire program. Although they did not win a conference match last season, the addition of eight freshmen and five transfers has the community feeling hopeful. However, the athletes aren’t the only fresh faces.
After 10 years and a steady streak of disappointing seasons with the Bonnies, Mel Maher resigned from his head coaching position. The St. Bonaventure staff knew it would take a unique individual to step in and create an immediate impact.
From West Africa to Western New York, the Bonnies found their coach in Kwame Oduro. Appointed as only the seventh coach in program history, Oduro seized this opportunity for the chance to follow his dreams and better his young family.
Over the past four years, the Ghana native served as the assistant coach at Canisius College. During his time under head coach Dermot McGrane, Oduro helped the Golden Griffins set a school record for wins in a season. In addition to his obligations at Canisius, Oduro is also the coach for the New England Revolution Empire Youth Club team. During his time there, he has led them to two state cup championships.
Oduro is stepping into similar circumstances at Bonaventure as he was when he entered Canisius and its struggling program. However, he has not let he difficult task at hand deter him from his main objective- to win more games.
Humble, quiet and pragmatic, Oduro placed his primary point of importance on the simple notion of hard work.
“It’s going to take a lot of guts, a lot of hard work and perseverance,” said Oduro on what it will take to be competitive in the A-10 this season. “We need to dig deep and fight through adversity.”
As of right now, the Bonnies’ leading weakness is the failure to block out errors and remain mentally resilient throughout the duration of the game.
How does Oduro plan to combat that? His leaders must step up.
After a long pause and a heavy sigh, Oduro stressed the importance of leaving the past in the rearview mirror. “I need my leaders to stay positive. Over the years there has been a lot of negativity on this team and I need them to step up and be positive now.”
Of the Bonnies’ 15 losses last season, 12 of them were shutouts. Overall, they took 146 shots and only six of those were goals. They averaged 9.1 shots per game and only recorded a total of four assists on the year.
“I’m not worried about the shots on goal,” said Oduro. “I’m worried about the goals we score.
Optimism is one thing, but what will it take for the Bonnies to execute this season?
“The main focus this preseason has been defending,” said the former Niagara University MVP. “We’re trying to cut down on goals allowed in order to get more opportunity on the offensive end.”
Not only must the players rise above adversity on the field, they are also expected to succeed in the classroom. With an impressive resume himself, coach Oduro does not take school lightly. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Niagara in 2007. He received MAAC All-Academic Team honors, while also earning a place on the 2005 ESPN The Magazine All-District Second Team. Oduro also obtained a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Nyack College and sports administration from Canisius.
“I don’t mess around with school,” said Oduro. “If you don’t do well in the classroom, then I don’t trust you can do well on the field.”
Things are already looking up for the Bonnies, as they beat NJIT last night in a stunning 2-1 victory. Kieran Toland netted both goals, the second coming with just seconds left in the first overtime period. He also controlled the midfield, something they lacked last season. Bobby Diaz recorded eight saves in the net, but what really stood out was the redshirt senior’s vocal leadership and constant encouragement.
“We still got a long way to go, but they are putting the effort in,” said the first-year head coach.
The Bonnies take on Hartwick on Monday with a chance to improve their record to 2-0, which would already be an improvement from last season.
New season. New coach. New expectations.