By Max Sass, Sports Editor
Two seasons ago, former Hofstra defender and captain Rich Martinez was named to the All-Colonial Athletic first team. Then freshman Thomas Bekas was recovering from a broken foot that cost him all but four games of his first season.
Last season, Martinez was named CAA Defensive Player of the Year as Bekas was working to make himself a force, starting 16 of 17 possible games for the Pride.
Now, Martinez is playing professionally in Puerto Rico and Bekas is the defender with the largest burden being put on him to replace the Pride's former defensive stalwart.
Two seasons ago, former Hofstra midfielder Rob Youhill was named to second team All – CAA. Stephan Barea was just a senior at Island Trees High School at the time.
Last year, in Barea's first season wearing the Dutch colors, Youhill was first team All – CAA and tied himself for third place with the school's record for career assists. Now a sophomore, Barea is being tasked with replacing the offensive output of Hofstra's ex-Englishman Youhill.
Head coach Richard Nuttall, at the helm of the Pride for 22 years now has seen his share of players come and go, so he would know if a player was up to a task. "They are the men for the job for sure," Nuttall said of Bekas and Barea filling Martinez and Youhill's big shoes.
Bekas knew as soon as last season ended a big part of the team's success would be put squarely on his shoulder, on and off the pitch. "This year I busted my butt from June on basically," Bekas said.
For all his hard work, Bekas was rewarded by being named one of the team's captains this year (along with senior defender Erik Rengifo and junior goalkeeper Greg Cumpstone). With the honor though comes more responsibility.
"I feel [the pressure] has changed for me because last year was more free flowing," Bekas said. "I had [former Hofstra defender] Jamal [Neptune] back there and Rich [Martinez] and Erik [Rengifo] as well but this year I feel like there is a heavy burden on me because Shaun [Foster] is still a rookie."
Part of living up to the responsibility and pressure for Bekas is organizing the team into a more cohesive unit. "It is more of a leadership thing," he said of his role. "We have to talk now that he [Martinez] is gone."
The teamwork has improved the team in Bekas' mind. "I think our back four is a little more solid than it was last year," he said. Bekas also later added that, "Last year we were more about individuals and this year we are more focused so when we go into games we don't have as many personal marks it is more of everyone gets their man and that's it."
If Bekas needs to replace a lot of leadership, then Barea needs to replace a whole lot of production.
Youhill finished his career with 21 assists, good for third all time at Hofstra. Barea finished freshman year with six goals, tied for the team lead, as well as two assists. He thinks he can improve upon those numbers though. "Rob is on the locker room [wall] for most assists in a career," Barea said. "I am trying to get there too for maybe goals."
Nuttall thinks Barea, his left – footed midfielder, can make a name for himself just like Youhill did before him. ""He has got potential," Nuttall said. "Athletically he is tremendous. He has got the tools he just has to fit it into the team now."
Barea, who spent the summer with the U-21 Puerto Rican national team, understands that Nuttall is counting on him heavily. He said, "Every time I see Coach Nuttall, he is just like ‘Everyone knows you now. You're not a freshman anymore, you're a sophomore that everyone knows'."
Barea sees a lot in Youhill's game that he can make his own. "I definitely have to vary my game," Barea said. "Rob would go down the line, cut in, shoot. He would just do a whole bunch of stuff. Me, I have to start varying my game. I tend to do the same thing over and over again and defenders start to read that."
Bekas and Barea had better be on their games this season as the Pride try to reload instead of restart after many significant losses.