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2021 UD Men's Soccer Season Preview: Regroup and Repeat
2021 UD Men's Soccer Season Preview: Regroup and Repeat
Christopher Rieman
Published by Chris R
08-24-2021
Smile 2021 UD Men's Soccer Season Preview: Regroup and Repeat

The Dayton men’s soccer team battled through an abbreviated 2021 spring season shortened by the global pandemic, but it didn’t slow the Flyers down where it counted. After starting 0-3 including a 2-0 loss Saint Louis in the A10 opener, things weren’t looking so good. But UD’s fortunes changed as Head Coach Dennis Currier’s squad went 4-0-1 over the final five matches – including a 1-0 2OT victory in the rematch against the Billikens – to secure the A10 regular season title and #1 overall seed in the conference tournament.

Unfortunately, #4 seed George Washington upset UD 1-0 at Baujan Field to end the season. All things considered however, the spring was successful and a testament to the Flyers’ ability to avoid discouragement early on and stick with the plan.

The 2021 fall campaign attempts to build off that momentum. If the preseason A10 polls are any indication, others feel like Dayton should be in the mix again. UD was picked third behind Fordham and Saint Louis -- including a pair of first-place votes in the process. With a more conventional schedule this year that should allow for better parity and fair comparison, it won’t get any easier however.

DEPARTURES

Some good news: Dayton’s senior class was exceedingly small. Even with other defections the personnel losses were relatively minor. With one major exception.

It will be a challenge replacing all-everything Jonas Fjeldberg (5gls, 4asts), a staple in the UD offense over his entire career. The two-time A10 Offensive Player of the Year and All A10 First Teamer tied for the team lead in scoring during the spring season and was ultimately picked 54th by FC Cincinnati in the recent MLS Draft. Fjeldberg’s creativity on and off the ball, ball-striking ability, and habit of creating quality scoring chances out of nothing gave the Flyers a fighting chance to outscore opponents. He demanded a lot of defensive attention that helped free up teammates in open spaces to help carry the scoring load when double- or triple-teamed. Fjeldberg was one of the most talented offensive weapons Currier has brought into the program during his tenure.

Backup GK Jack Steele did not see action in the spring, while Wariebi Jituboh (3 appearances) struggled for minutes. Aside from these three seniors that ran out of eligibility, sophomore Toluwalese Oladeinbo (3gls, 2asts) has moved on from the team and might be the second-biggest shoes to fill. Oladeinbo was a former A10 Rookie of the Year and finished the spring on the All A10 Second Team after starting all nine matches and accumulating the fifth-most minutes played. His speed and quickness in the offense provided a nice countering option to Fjeldberg’s creativity and attention.

Redshirt junior GK Justin Hinman (DNP) and sophomore Bryce Glisson (2asts, 6 appearances) also depart.

RETURNEES

Senior forward Kingsford Adjei (5gls, 4asts) tied Fjeldberg for team high in scoring in the spring and will be the focal point in the Flyer offense this fall. While only 5’5”, Adjei is a spark plug of dynamic energy and ability with the ball at his feet. The two time All A10 First Teamer was also named A10 Midfielder of the Year in 2019 and spring 2021 and could easily make that a three-peat. Working against him however is the lack of Fjeldberg to take some of the attention away, but there other Flyers capable of stepping up and helping Adjei in the playmaking and scoring department. The native Ghanian must have a big year – maybe his biggest – for UD to challenge for an A10 title.

Fellow senior MF Jake Feiner (3gls, 3asts, nine starts) might be the best bet to make the transition from vital role player to featured attacking All-Conference talent. Feiner has the confidence of the coaching staff and understands the macro part of the game, enabling him to affect the run-of-play in a variety of ways. This fall, he must pick up some of the scoring slack to make UD’s offense dangerous for opposing teams. Junior forwards Andy Sanchez (1gl, 1ast, 8 appearances) and Josh Darius (2gls, 1ast, 9 appearances) are experienced players from spring that should also challenge for playing time in the UD offense. Junior Manny Day (DNP), sophomore Cole Sparacino (DNP), RS sophomore Dominic Ruffolo (DNP), junior Cade Gergye (DNP), and senior Nolan Hutter (DNP) will also fight for precious minutes. Sophomore forward Rashid Aroza made one spring appearance.

Sophomore midfielder Michael Adedokun made eight starts in nine appearances in the spring, while junior Seth Antwi made eight starts as a withdrawn midfielder. Junior midfielder Tyler Swanbeck (1 start, 6 appearances) could also be in the mix.

Defensively, sophomore GK Marc Kouadio played all of the spring minutes in goal for the Flyers and was earned A10 All Rookie. He’s the safe bet to start in goal once again this fall, but senior GK Jake Lofgren might be next in line if Kouadio doesn’t get the nod. While Lofgren has never seen the field, he’s been with the program for four years and knows the expectations. RS Senior Josh Morgan (DNP) is also on the roster.

Defender Elias Harryson could be UD’s best returning player at their given position as the 6’3” Swede enters his senior year with all of the boxes checked – career starter, All-Conference, and respect from his teammates and coaches alike. Harryson has been a rock in the back line ever since he was named A10 All Rookie back in 2018 and poses one of the most difficult physical assignments for opposing goal scorers. He has help however, though it’s not quite as experienced.

Junior defender Jaden Jones-Riley started all nine matches in the spring while finishing 4th in total minutes played. Nominated as a Rising Star at the annual RUDY’s, Jones-Riley is a nice complement to Harryson, though a full six inches shorter than the Scandinavian. What Jones-Riley lacks in size he makes up for in speed, athleticism, and positioning.

The rest of the defensive unit is young but talented and received a ton of minutes during the spring. Diminutive 5’9” defender Geni Kanyane started six of nine spring matches as a true freshman while fellow spring frosh Milan Miric made four starts in five overall appearances in the back line. Connor Kelley started four matches in seven appearances as another spring newcomer, while spring frosh Joey Tawah made five starts in seven appearances.

The “X” factor however may be junior defender Xavier Zengue. Zengue started all 21 matches as a frosh on his way to A10 All Rookie honors, but managed just two appearances in the spring. The Minnesota-native adds a serious jolt of athleticism and recovery speed to the back line, while also offering the Flyers a dangerous attacking player on carry-forwards and overlaps out of the defensive third. Zengue has a high ceiling and if he can bounce back to 2019 form it would be a huge lift for the defense.

NEWCOMERS

While the departures were few and far between, the incoming class adds several new faces. The pandemic threw all kinds of recruiting curve balls and part of that fallout was a lack of conventional information tracking on offseason recruiting. Like the UD women’s soccer incoming class, this one is also difficult to assess other than what’s on paper and stamped in the player bios. Like all Flyer classes preceding it, the group is a mixture of domestics and internationals.

Up top, UD added forwards Seni Joseph (Darnestown, MD) and junior transfer Forster Ajago (Univ. Delaware). Midfielders Romeo Yeo (Ivory Coast) and Papa Gueye (Senegal), and senior Cooper Knecht (Fairfield University) add some punch to the central third of the pitch.

Sophomore GK Sean Ellis transferred in from Kalamazoo College to help provide depth between the pipes. Defensive additions including Ntezy Swalita (Univ. Memphis/Salt Lake Community College) and Christian Graham (Queens, NY).

A couple newcomers always surprise and turn into immediate impact players on the field. The Flyer back line is pretty solid which should afford the defensive newcomers time to grow. Dayton must re-work the offense a bit with the loss of Fjeldberg and Oladeinbo however, so one or two new players might find themselves pushing the veterans for minutes in the offensive third.

SCHEDULE

Dayton swept the preseason with wins over IUPUI, Bellarmine, and Wabash. The regular season gets underway on Aug. 27th and Aug. 29th at Ohio State’s in-season tournament. Dayton takes on UAB on Friday followed by Memphis on Sunday.

The home opener is Saturday Sep. 4th in the Flyers’ own tournament against Incarnate Word, followed by Detroit two days later. A third home game vs. Western Michigan looms on Friday Sep. 10th.

The Flyers hit the road for a match at Oakland on Sep. 14th, followed by a home date vs Kansas City on Sep. 18th. Another road match follows at West Virginia on Sep. 21st.

The A10 season commences on Sept. 25th at VCU, followed by the last non-con match of the season against Kentucky on Sep. 29th at Baujan Field. Conference play resumes on Oct. 2nd against UMass at home, followed by a roadie at GW on Oct. 6th and a home date against Rhode Island on Oct. 9th. A two-game road trip starts with Saint Louis on Oct. 16th and concluding with Davidson on Oct. 20th. The last two A10 matches are at Baujan Field against St. Bonaventure on Oct. 23rd, and Duquesne on Oct. 30th.

Overall it’s not an overly challenging schedule – either in the non-conference or within the A10. There are victories to be had and the Flyers avoid preseason A10 favorite Fordham entirely. Given the returning experience, it’s a schedule UD can and should find success against.

CONCLUSION

There’s no getting around the loss of a talent like Jonas Fjeldberg so Dayton cannot try to replace his presence with one player. It will require a tag-team effort where his playmaking and scoring ability get dispersed to other veterans ready to step up and carry the torch as featured players in the lineup. Oladeinbo’s contributions were not chopped liver either. These are real concerns and every top program in any league must have the luxury of pointing to their multiple All-Conference scorers to get the job done.

Defensively however, Dayton is in a pretty good spot. Harryson is the lead sled dog in the back line and while his accomplices lack the experience of the imposing Swede, they are young, exuberant, and have played a ton of minutes despite their age. Looking bigger picture and longer-term, it’s a defensive unit with a bright future. In the here-and-now however, the defense and especially Kouadio in goal may have to carry the team while the offense crafts a new identity. That means grinding out some ugly W’s in the non-conference schedule so the full product is developed and ready to go for the A10 opener.

If last season taught us anything, Dayton is a program with some resiliency. Despite the lackluster start, the Flyers never felt sorry for themselves and called it quits. Instead, they worked on their weaknesses and developed a short-term approach to turning it all around – by focusing on the next 90 minutes and tuning out the noise. It served them well in the spring. All this team needs is a better start out of the gates this fall.

It’s never easy however in men’s college soccer; the parity is so tight that winning and losing often comes down to nuance rather than stark differences in talent or playing style. At this level even the bad teams have great athletes and one or two players that can hurt you. Get down a goal, panic, and that’s all it takes to swap out W’s for L’s on the schedule. It doesn’t take long for those to add up either because every victory or defeat is really a two-game swing in the standings.

The Flyers were picked 3rd in the A10 and that’s probably not too far off. Fordham has elevated their program in the last couple seasons while Saint Louis will always have talent because of their brand history. What matters for Dayton is beating teams that are beatable. Fortunately, the schedule is full of those opponents. There are no Indianas, Wake Forests, Notre Dames, or UCLAs looming on the horizon to send UD into a tailspin. West Virginia, Memphis, and Kentucky are formidable but totally beatable. No one in the A10 is off limits either.

The same can be said for the Flyers however – on any given night UD can take a loss which means the luxury of penciling in victories is decidedly absent. UD’s fortunes rest on mastering the fundamentals, limiting defensive mistakes, and finishing the most dangerous chances inside the opponent’s goal box. If that happens, anything is possible. When the smoke clears, we’d like to see UD finish with twice as many wins as losses and reach the A10 championship game. Doable, but not without some reservations as well. In the meantime, a full season of fall soccer with fans in the stands almost feels like a victory on its own. Let’s hope nothing changes.

A10 Predicted Finish: 3rd
A10 Predicted Tournament Finish: Semifinals
Postseason: None
__________________

C. M. Rieman | Publisher | 937.361.4630 | Get the latest here:

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