SU Soccer faces big challenges next season

The men's soccer team must replace eight starters from last year, while playing its toughest schedule in eight seasons.

Change is inevitable in college athletics. Players have four, maybe five years with a team. And if they are lucky, they have three years of playing together as the core of the team. After that, the team must rebuild. The men’s soccer team at Syracuse University is no exception.

The Orange have to replace eight players next season, which is no small task for any school.

Photo: Amanda Piela
Miles Robinson was drafted second in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft following his sophomore year, the highest draft position for an SU player. The Orange must replace him on both the offensive and defensive ends of the pitch.

“It is a big challenge this year, because of the turnover in the roster,” said head coach Ian McIntyre.

McIntyre has dealt with challenges throughout his tenure at SU.

“I’ll also probably be the first one to say that realizing that it was a big job to change the culture of being able to not just hang in games but to compete and try to win those games,” McIntyre said. “But it was hard work and there was no quick fix. We won five games in the first two years. It was tough, a tough grind.”

The culture of the program changed almost overnight, as the team posted a 14-6-1 record in 2012, earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years.

McIntyre attributed this success to one thing.

“Players,” McIntyre said. “I was very familiar with Syracuse being an upstate New York coach and player, I’m very familiar with the history of the program and the team has been good."

While the program has been good, the Orange has had to play in some of the toughest conferences in college soccer. Prior to 2013, the Orange played in the Big East.

"Back then, the Big East was a very tough conference to compete in," McIntyre said. "It's tough to leave the Big East and go to a tougher conference like we did with the ACC.”

The Orange made the move to the ACC in 2013.  And while it struggled in conference play, the team finished with a winning record.  This trend has continued as the Orange have not had a losing record at the end of the season since McIntyre’s second season.

In that time, the program has risen to new heights, culminating with an ACC Tournament Championship and a Final Four appearance in 2015.

In 2016, the Orange didn't see deep runs in the postseason: they were eliminated in the quarterfinals in the ACC Tournament by Clemson and by North Carolina in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament, both of which are ACC foes.

Now, McIntyre must replace key members of his team, something he is very familiar with.

“The question was who is going to replace Alex Bono? Who’s going to replace Julian Buescher or Ben Polk?” McIntyre said. “That will be the same with Miles Robinson, Sergio Camargo, Oyvind Alseth, and Liam Callahan. These were important pieces. But I think that the beauty of having a team is that the team evolves and, if you allow it to evolve and you work out the pieces.”

Four players from SU were drafted in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, and one other, Camargo, signed with Toronto FC, the largest group of Orange players to enter the MLS in a single season. McIntyre knows this, but insists the team will not lose a beat.

“The cupboard is not bare,” McIntyre said. “We’ve got some quality players. And I think we have a core and a spine to the team that is very strong. We’ve also got some players who didn’t have as much of an opportunity as they did last year that I think can step up and can provide for us, and have this spring. They’ve given us some good minutes.”

In addition to the returning players, the Orange have 11 recruits coming in, including two prospects in Top Drawer Soccer’s top 100: Miles Franklyn and Simon Triantafillou.

“We’re excited about the youthful energy and exuberance that we have coming with a new group of guys,” McIntyre said. “There’s some talent there.”

The biggest shoes that need to be filled are those of Robinson, who was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and an NSCAA First-Team All-American last season. He was selected second overall by the Atlanta United.  The sophomore became the highest Orange selection in SuperDraft history.

“I think it would be unfair to say that player X needs to replace that individual. It can be by a couple of players,” McIntyre said. ”We may have to play a little bit differently than we did with Miles, but good programs and good teams have that problem.”

During the spring schedule, which saw the Orange finish undefeated at 3-0-3, McIntyre saw some players that could potential take Robinson’s place.



“We do not have a Miles Robinson on our team. But we have players like Kamal Miller, John-Austin Ricks, and Hampus Bergdahl, who’s had a good spring,” McIntyre said. “These are players that will hopefully grow into their roles and there’ll be a new leadership component to this team as well.”

And recruits will also be given a chance, although McIntyre knows that these are big shoes to fill.

"It’s very difficult, and probably a bit unfair to put a lot of pressure on new guys,” McIntyre said. “However, we will certainly be giving opportunities to a number of the guys pretty early in their careers to see how they do.”

In addition to replacing valuable players, the Orange will have to face a daunting schedule.

“This will be the toughest schedule that we have put together in our seven years, this will be our eighth year,” McIntyre said. “By far our most difficult non-conference schedule. That could be a touch of brilliance or stupidity, I’m not sure yet.”

In non-conference action, the team plays the likes of Akron, who also made it to the Final Four in 2015, Ohio State, and Oregon State.

After the test of the non-conference, the Orange face an even bigger test: ACC play, which McIntyre called one of the toughest conferences in the nation.

“It’s an unforgiving, challenging schedule,” McIntyre said. “So I think that we would be discrediting anyone to highlight a Louisville or a Clemson or a Wake Forest. These are good teams, but there are a number of teams on our schedule that are certainly capable of winning the national championship next year.”

For McIntyre’s squad, a tough schedule is part of the process.

“We are looking to establish ourselves as a dominant program in the country,” McIntyre said. “I think what makes us different than others is having that consistency. There’s only a handful of schools that could probably say that in the last five years they’ve had three Sweet Sixteens and a Final Four. Now can we do that over the next five to 10 years?”

That question has yet to be answered, but one thing is for sure: Syracuse soccer has made great strides under McIntyre.

“Look, eight years ago to talk about having a group that looks to compete for an ACC Championship or a national championship, I think would have felt very uncomfortable having a conversation about that,” McIntyre said. “But I think those are our goals.”

In order to achieve those goals, McIntyre knows that the team must continue what they have always done in his tenure: work hard.

“It’s easier said than done,” McIntyre said. “There are no shortcuts, it’s hard work, but I think we aspire to be one of those programs that year in and year out that is competing for a national championship.”

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