Behind The Wolfpack: Men’s Soccer Look To Correct Mistakes In Conference Play

[Emmett O’Connor searches for goal against Canisius last weekend – Photo courtesy of]

By Ryan Lazo, Co-editor in chief/feature columnist, @RMLazo13

The St. Bonaventure University men’s soccer team controlled the pace from the opening whistle against their Little Three rival, the Niagara Purple Eagles. The defense pressured the Eagles into early mistakes, and scoring opportunities were opening up.

Then, in the 13th minute, Brad Vanino blasted home a rebound into the back of the net for his first goal of the season and seemingly gave the Bonnies momentum to turn things around.

But just one minute later, a breakdown on the back line allowed Niagara to tie the game  – one they would eventually win 3-2. It’s the perfect microcosm of the Bonnies’ season. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

“We’re still looking for answers,” seventh-year head coach Mel Mahler said during practice. “As a coach, I’m trying to find a lineup that is most effective and figure out a way to turn this thing around.”

And the season is desperately in need of a turnaround.

Through nine games of their non-conference schedule, the Bonnies (1-8) have been outscored by a total of 29 to 6. They have suffered through injuries, suffered through mental lapses and played down a man multiple times in games.

“We lack leadership,” Mahler said frankly. “Leadership from the standpoint of helping keep the team focused and giving direction.

We lack communication at key points — that’s a leadership issue.”

However, the Brown and White have been able to tighten up the defense, one that ranks among the worst in the Atlantic 10 Conference. In their last three match-ups, the Bonnies have held opponents to just five goals, after surrendering 10 in two games against Hartwick and Syracuse.

“We made a formation change on defense,” junior midfielder Brad Vanino said. “We are focusing on it in practice and making sure we keep the ball out of the back of our net.”

But Mahler is not fond of the idea of having to sit back and play a counter-attacking style. He prefers to have an attacking style offense, one that sees the back line coming up into the attack and helping out the forwards.

But after surrendering an onslaught of goals, changes had to be made.

“We took the attacking responsibility away from our defenders,” Mahler said. “We’ve been trying the past few weeks to learn how get 10 players behind the ball, win it and how to attack from there. It’s a learning curve.”

Unfortunately for the Bonnies, the learning curve may be taking too long. With just one more non-conference match-up scheduled before A-10 play, they need to pick up the system quickly.

“We’ve definitely learned a lot about our defense and we played great competition during our non-conference schedule,” Vanino said of his team. “Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and improve in conference play.”

For a team that lacks a true identity, one that has dominated games and still managed to find a way to lose, it’s a long road ahead.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Mahler said of his struggling team. “We’ve dug ourselves a really deep hole, and we have to find a way to get out.”

With a daunting A-10 conference season on the horizon, the Brown and White need to correct the mistakes that have haunted them or it will be a long and chilly fall season for the men’s soccer team.

Behind the Wolfpack: Serious sophomores step up

By Ryan Lazo, feature columnist, @RMLazo13

Sophomore goalkeeper Mitchell Mack put his hands in the air, shook his head and looked at the ground, dejected after allowing a third goal to University at Buffalo in a season-opening loss.

The first-year starter would allow another three goals in a loss to Niagara one day later, shaking his confidence and leaving him to doubt his abilities.

“The nerves seemed to get the best of me, hurting my communication with the back line,” he said. 

Mack represents the lack of experience the Bonnies faced at the start of this year. Such is life for a team that graduated 14 players from last year’s squad, one that reached the Atlantic 10 Conference playoffs for a second consecutive season.

(To see a picture of Mack and others, click Read More)

[From left to right: Sophomores Brad Vanino, James Reed and Mitchell Mack – Photo courtesy of]

Seventh-year head coach Mel Mahler said he expected some bumps and bruises but hoped his players will be up to the challenge. 

“The key for these players is to learn from the mistakes faster,” he said, “shortening the learning curve and getting in good position for the conference opener.”

Just like Mahler hoped, Mack and the underclassmen learned quickly from their communication issues — and they proved it on the pitch the next two games. 

The Bonnies shut out their next opponent, UNC Asheville, 1-0, with Mack tallying up nine saves and his first career shutout. Sophomore Daniel Iannacito scored his first career goal.

[Daniel Iannacito, No. 13 – Photo by Tony Lee]

Mack extended his shutout streak the next game against Florida Atlantic, 2-0, against a team that defeated the No. 14 team in the nation on Aug. 26. Sophomores Brad Vanino and James Reed scored in the shutout, too. 

“He didn’t make a decision during the UB game,” Mahler said of Mack. “He was afraid to make a mistake, and this weekend, he demonstrated some more decisive decision making.”

Mahler said he expects the Bonnies, picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10’s coach’s poll, to be in the postseason every year. Six teams out of the 12 make it to the postseason.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I came here — to establish us as a playoff contender,” he said.

After graduating 19 players the past two seasons, both of which culminated in playoff appearances, the Bonnies may not have time for any more growing pains to accomplish Mahler’s goal.

But if this weekend’s victories are any indication of the future, the Bonnies will if anything become a pain to the rest of the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“We’re facing a variety of opponents, different venues — turf and grass — long bus rides, short bus rides,” he said. “The non-conference games will give us the experience we need to get us ready for the conference schedule.”