Men's Soccer, Sports, Fall, Column

BC Needs Young Talent to Become Game-Changers to Break Tourney Drought

There was a time where Boston College men’s soccer was a near lock to make the NCAA Tournament. From 2000-12, the Eagles missed the tournament just three times: In 2003 (when BC finished the year ninth in the Big East), 2005, and 2006—the two seasons after the Eagles joined the ACC. Since then, it hasn’t quite been smooth sailing for BC. 

In the past six years, the Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament just twice, in 2015 and 2016, and finished with a losing record in each of the other four years. So what went wrong? And why is BC all of a sudden struggling to make the postseason? The answer might be as simple as this: The Eagles simply haven’t had the top-tier talent they need to consistently compete in the ACC, nor the attacking stars necessary to make noise in the NCAA Tournament.

Consider this. In 2015 and 2016, when BC won a combined 20 games and made it to the second round or further in the NCAA Tournament both years, the Eagles had the dynamic Zeiko Lewis running the attacking show. The 2013 ACC Freshman of the Year—who finished his career with 18 goals and 26 assists—gave BC a source of pace and skill from his hybrid midfield/forward role. The Bermuda native, who was drafted No. 17 overall in the 2017 MLS Superdraft, was able to win games pretty much by himself. In 2016, he scored the lone goal as the eighth-seeded Eagles upset No. 1 overall seed North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. Later that season, in a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Fordham, Lewis repeated the feat, finding the back of the net in the 82nd minute for the game-winning goal. 

Before that, when BC broke a two-year postseason drought in 2007, it had Alejandro Bedoya, who now has 66 appearances for the United States national team and played in the 2014 World Cup, at the heart of the team. The attacking midfielder totaled 26 points in 21 games that year, an output which stands as the sixth-most points any Eagles player has ever tallied in one season. 

Also on that team was Sherron Manswell, the player with the second most points in a single season in BC history. A second-team All-ACC selection in 2007, Manswell was the perfect complement to Bedoya, scoring 11 goals as the Eagles won the conference regular season title. In the ACC Tournament, Manswell then scored the opening goal of the championship game, helping BC knock off Wake Forest—which went on to win the national championship—for its first and only ACC Tournament title.

Manswell graduated after his excellent final season, and Bedoya left the program a year later, but it didn’t take Kelly long to reload. In 2009, goalkeeper Justin Luthy—who still leads the Eagles all-time in wins (43) and minutes played (7,400)—burst onto the scene. He was named to the All-ACC Second Team, as BC advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Also on the 2009 squad were Charlie Rugg—an All-ACC Freshman Team member who would become a prolific goal scorer for the Eagles as a target forward—and Kyle Bekker, a playmaking midfielder who eventually became the third overall draft pick in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. 

Rugg finished his career with 28 goals, while Bekker dominated the midfield for the Eagles, recording 22 assists and playing 80 career games. Both were mainstays on All-ACC Teams—Rugg made the First Team in 2010, 2011, and 2012, while Bekker cracked the Second Team in 2010 before joining Rugg on the First Team in each of the next two seasons. Behind its three stars, BC and Kelly made the NCAA Tournament every year from 2009 to 2012. 

After they left, the Eagles missed the postseason in two straight seasons, waiting for their next star to come along. Then, Lewis broke out to become one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the country. Since he left in 2016, BC hasn’t sniffed the tournament and has decidedly lacked a game-changing talent that possesses the ability to take over a game single-handedly. Simon Enstrom, who graduated in 2018 and finished his career with 30 goals—good for fifth-most in Eagles history—was certainly talented, but also was more of a pure goal scorer who couldn’t control games by himself. 

The available evidence suggests that, for BC to consistently make the postseason, it needs bonafide attacking stars. Now that’s true for every team, but especially true for the Eagles, After all, they compete in the ACC, which has historically been one of the deepest and most talented conferences in the country. It has had a representative in three of the last five National Championships and has won 12 national titles since 1990. In fact, in 2018, nine of the 12 teams in the conference made the NCAA Tournament—BC wasn’t one of them. 

To make matters worse, BC can’t rely on reeling in the best players either—none of the top 150 recruits in the country for the class of 2019 committed to the Eagles, though many of those same players chose to pursue a professional career rather than go to college. And many of the other top recruits ended up committing to other ACC powerhouses. All in all, five of the top-25 recruiting classes in 2019 belonged to other teams in BC’s conference. 

So, under Kelly, the Eagles have had to rely on local talent and overseas products to unearth stars. Lewis attended high school in Berkshire, Mass., and Rugg hails from Roslindale, Mass., while Bekker was born in Ontario, Manswell played in Trinidad and Tobago before accepting a scholarship to BC, and Enstrom also played abroad in Sweden. The only exceptions were Bedoya, who was raised in Weston, Fla., and the Dublin, Ohio, native Luthy. 

The next logical thing to wonder is where the Eagles’ next great talent will come from. There are several candidates already on the roster. Amos Shapiro-Thompson—who has a team-high seven points in 2019—is one. Stefan Sigurdarson, who scored a spectacular game-winning goal against Rhode Island, and Mike Suski, another local recruit, are two others. And don’t discount Kristofer Konradsson, the Gardabaer, Iceland native who earned a spot on the 2018 All-ACC Freshman team and finished second on the team in goals last season.

The fact remains, though, for BC to break its tournament drought in the next couple of years, one or more of its promising underclassmen will have to become the next Lewis or Bekker. Eagles fans have ample reason to have hope that one of them will become a star—Kelly does have a better-than-average record of developing talent, after all—but also plenty of reason to worry. After all, given the way things have played out for BC since joining the ACC, a team full of simply solid players won’t nearly be enough for the Eagles to reach the postseason again. They need another hidden gem or two.  

Featured Image by Kayla Brandt / Heights Staff

September 30, 2019