Sports, Top Story, Fall

End Of Hope: Men’s Soccer’s Season Hangs On A Thread

It’s about 90 degrees, and Boston College men’s soccer head coach Ed Kelly is wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt, and a pair of sunglasses. As associate head coach John Murphy runs the team through a shooting drill, Kelly expresses enthusiasm and excitement about a squad that had earned a draw with preseason No. 8 Connecticut.

Everything was going right–the new diamond system was working, Zeiko Lewis and Isaac Normesinu were combining up top, and Phil Sandgren was available to play for a healthy squad. Kelly gleefully answered question after question with ease and definition.

Will the team be better than last season? “Yes,” said Kelly.

Sure, it didn’t have a field to play on, but the start of a season gives people that crazy bit of optimism, and a “this could be our year,” feel. As Kelly began to talk about his new recruits, he said that German international Len Zeugner was “big time,” but then he said, “Moro is really good. Moro’s a stud.”

When BC’s No. 27 walked onto the pitch against Iona as a starter at left back, he appeared timid and lost in his surroundings, but just moments into the match, he was bombing forward down the left flank like a veteran. He’s quiet, humble, and doesn’t score much. In fact, he doesn’t have any assists to his name either. Nevertheless, Mohammed Moro is the 5-foot-9, 145-pound kid packed with the potential to propel men’s soccer forward.

That doesn’t mean he’s perfect.

Kelly yells at, or rather harangues, Moro throughout games like a dad trying to get a child gone astray on the playground to stay near the swings. Moro’s coach wants the freshman to understand the system and the way he envisions his team playing its soccer, whether that’s with him at left back or in the diamond. The freshman is eager to learn. Moro started the season as an attacking left full back. In the last two games though, Ado Kawuba took over left back duties, and Moro was pushed up to be the shuttler on the left side of the diamond, which he did in the team’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of No. 9 UNC on Friday night.

“I think it is really interesting for me to play there, because I like to attack, but at the same time, I want to make sure I’m defending as well,” Moro said. “So, usually, I’m trying to drop to make sure that no one is going behind me and a the same time, I’m getting too much width.”

Soccer is a thinking man’s game. The ball rarely stops moving and as the level goes up, players have less time to make decisions and play the perfect ball. Teams overseas to go to great lengths to get players to think faster. Borussia Dortmund, the club where Zeugner was produced, built this multi-million dollar machine-from-the-future to help its players think faster.

Moro doesn’t have that though, so he has to learn on the job. North Carolina is a team that likes to press and compress the game. It depends on winning the ball high up the field and using its lethal attackers to do the rest. As a result, Moro was put under the gun the moment he got the ball and had no space to turn into, so he would concede possession often.

“Once I get in the middle and I’m opening up to get the ball, then they pass the ball to me once I’m running out, it’s hard for me actually to turn and see the guy coming,” Moro said. “So usually my only option is to pass it back or try and turn and hit it. But as soon as I get the ball, they come on me really quick, so I don’t actually get a chance to run around.”

Lesson learned. Freshman Henry Balf got that the hard way in his first ACC match against Clemson.

In their first two months in school, the two have learned that the college game is fast and cruel.

In the 32nd minute, after playing even with the Tar Heels for most of the first half, the Eagles found themselves behind 1-0 when Verneri Valimaa tapped in Walker Hume’s shot inside the six after Alex Kapp made the initial stop.

UNC’s goal put BC in a position it struggles in—chasing the game. The introduction of the speedy Normesinu saw him and Lewis play up top together. As a duo, the pair of sophomores love to combine. Before each match, they juggle together, but against the Tar Heels, the inseparable pair was wedged apart.

“It just got disjointed,” Kelly said. “One is out there, one is over there and as soon as the midfielder got the ball, the two guys run away. Then it was like … kicking it over their head.”

The midfield’s long ball plan failed. Lewis and Normesinu are at their best when moving together, and playing kick and run was no way to spur the stagnant attack.

In the second half, the two forwards struggled to connect, and Moro was pushed to a new position at the tip of the diamond.

“He’s okay, and then we tried to use him in the midfield and he got lost,” Kelly said.

Against the Tar Heels, the team as a whole looked lost. The attack couldn’t figure out how to get around the opponent’s 3-4-3, which is the first three-back system the team has faced all season. But tactics were not the reason for the loss, nor are they the reason why the Eagles need NC State to lose to either Syracuse or Clemson, and at most draw with one of the pair, to have a chance at qualifying for the ACC Tournament.

The reason is the little decisions and the little mistakes. They add up. Losing possession in dangerous parts of the pitch and not getting goal-side of the forwards might seem unimportant in the moment, but if one looks back over the body of work, the little points get taken off everywhere, just like they would on a test.

Similar to the team as a whole, Moro is a talented player. Despite losing seven seniors, the bulk of the squad’s talent will return next year. As a unit, everyone has to think faster and understand what is happening in the match at all times. Moro is a smart player, and one who thinks about and grasps the concepts that the coaching staff is implanting into the brains of its players. If only the freshman and the team could cut the little errors and blips out, then things might be a bit more hopeful, just like they were on that sunny August afternoon.

Featured Image by Mike Trummel / For The Heights

October 25, 2014