Men’s soccer at bottom of NJAC standings

Junior defender Jordan Kayal fights for the ball at Lions Stadium. (Photo courtesy of The Sports Information Desk)
Junior defender Jordan Kayal fights for the ball at Lions Stadium. (Photo courtesy of The Sports Information Desk)

Struggles to produce goals have put the men’s soccer team in a hole after just three conference games, as losses in all of them — including setbacks this week to Richard Stockton College, 1-0, and Kean University, 4-0 — leave the College at the bottom of the NJAC standings.

At the heart of the problem, the Lions (3-6-2, 0-3) have had difficulty getting on the board, as they’ve been shut out in all of their conference games so far.

They also have been unable to start games on the right foot, including against Richard Stockton College when they conceded the game-winner in the 10th minute.

Forward Alex Kourahanis sent in a tantalizing cross that narrowly went past the College’s center backs and into the path of onrushing midfielder Ian Carmelia, who pounced for his first goal of the year.

“Conceding a goal before half time is really a matter of concentration and mentality, and we’ve come out slow and nervous in many of our games and we’ve gotten punished for it,” said sophomore goalkeeper Jake Nesteruk, who made six saves. “We need to break the habit of letting up goals early, any time you can keep the game scoreless you have a shot at winning.”

After giving up the early goal, the Lions bent, but never broke, defensively to keep the game close until the final whistle.

That was largely because Nesteruk denied Stockton with numerous big-time stops, including on a short-range blast in the 53rd minute, and a goal-line clearance several minutes later preserved the score.

“We really focused on a few key players who make them tick, and our goal was to shut them down,” Nesteruk said. “Our biggest strategy in handling them is keeping the ball ourselves and playing our possession-oriented game so we wouldn’t have to play long stretches of defense in our own half.”

It helped that Stockton’s offensive standout, Anthony Colofranson, was out of the game due to yellow card accumulation, but the Ospreys did all they needed to do on offense for the win.

And while the Lions had fewer touches inside the box than their opponents, they still came up with opportunities to equalize.

High pressure upfield created a few turnovers in the final third, and the Lions had a few dangerous passing sequences in the second half. But, they ended up being near-misses — a blast just wide of net and a save for the Stockton goalkeeper.

It didn’t get any better in the road trip to Kean, where the Lions again conceded first and couldn’t convert on their chances.

Sophomore midfielder Nick Costelloe hit the post in the seventh minute, and the Lions put five more shots on net, but a Kean goal in the 32nd minute would be all the Cougars needed for the three points.

That goal changed the complexion of the game, forcing the Lions into opening up and chasing the game in the second half.

“We have had to make adjustments going into the second halves of games and later, as well, to push numbers forward to equalize the score and at least get a point from the game, which has made us vulnerable to the counter-attack,” Nesteruk said.

That led to Kean adding insurance goals off a 42nd minute penalty kick, during a loose ball situation in the 72nd minute and off a rebound from a header to round out the scoring in the 77th.

The result leaves the College in last place of the NJAC, having played one more game than most of the other 10 teams.

Next up for the Lions is a home friendly against the College of Staten Island on Wednesday, Oct. 1, and they head to the NJAC-leading Montclair State University in need of a result on Saturday, Oct. 4.

“We know what we are capable of, and we haven’t played up to are standards so far,” Nesteruk said. “At this point, we need to start turning things around and picking up wins. At 0-3, we definitely consider our NJAC games must-wins. We have to have that determined mentality in every game we play if we want something to materialize from this season.”