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