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Men's soccer looks to return to winning ways

Photo courtesy of Hofstra Athletics  Men’s soccer huddles together in anticipation in the final minutes before their match starts against Northwestern. by Chris Buckley - Staff Writer

In 2013, the Hofstra Pride men’s soccer team was defined by its youth combined with veteran leadership from two of the best players to ever wear the Pride uniform. With the departure of Hofstra’s all-time leader in assists, Chris Griebsch, and former captain, Tyler Botte, due to graduation. The upcoming season leaves head coach Richard Nuttall with a tough test in his 26th year at the helm of the Pride. All of the necessary tools are in place for the Pride to improve upon their 8-7-3 record from 2013. Carrying a roster dominated by 10 sophomores, as well as some familiar faces, Nuttall has a group primed to lead Hofstra to a third straight CAA tournament appearance in 2014 and quite possibly beyond.

One of the most difficult aspects of college athletics is that players come and go remarkably quickly. In a span of four years and sometimes less, a team’s best athletes must be on their way out to make room for new recruits. Losing certain players can drastically change a program’s direction, or at the very least, can cause some shakeups. For the Hofstra Pride, the loss of former captain Tyler Botte is a significant blow and a perfect example of how graduation leaves a team with holes to fill. Botte’s value to the Pride typically did not come on the scorecard, as he only scored five points in 2013. Rather, his vocal leadership and field management as a part of Hofstra’s solid defensive backline are what helped him become a captain. It is also what made him such a prized player.

At 6 feet 3 inches, his height made him as dangerous as any other player in the conference inside the 18-yard box on set pieces. As of now, seniors Maid Memic and Elliot Firth are the team’s remaining two captains.

Look for experienced defender Daniel Grundei, a senior transfer who spent two years at Towson without missing a start (32 games) to emerge as the third team captain. Grundei was named a captain during his sophomore season with the Tigers back in 2012, before the school discontinued their soccer program.

However, if Hofstra wants to continue becoming a legitimate contender for the NCAA Tournament, something they have not qualified for since 2006, they must find a way to fill the void of Chris Griebsch. Griebsch’s stellar 2013 campaign earned him the honor of CAA Player of the Year, as the Germany native finished the season with eight goals and seven assists for 15 total points, good for third in the Colonial. His seven assists led all players. Griebsch’s dangerous left foot made him invaluable for the Pride on set pieces. A player with incredible soccer IQ and playmaking ability, Griebsch can score, as well as set up his teammates; namely Maid Memic. Memic finished second in the conference with 10 goals in 2013, thanks to his partner-in-crime.

The question remains: who can break through and fill Griebsch’s shoes? On paper, the best option is midfielder Joseph Holland. Holland played his freshman season here in Hempstead in 2012, earning CAA Rookie of the Year. After leaving the program for one year in 2013, the England native has returned to campus with a fortuitous opportunity before him.

As a freshman, Holland posted 14 points on six goals and two assists. Even with Griebsch and his playmaking out of the picture, there is absolutely no reason Holland cannot improve his numbers with the talent he possesses. As a marker for the season, the sophomore should reach around eight goals and five assists. Combined with the offensive prowess of senior Maid Memic, Hofstra’s leading scorer last year, who finished second in the conference with 23 points, the Pride should not have trouble finding the back of the net.

Other possible options to assist the frontline are Elliot Firth, Reece Alexander and Meshack Eshun Addy. Firth and Alexander combined to start 29 games last season, while Addy joins Hofstra as a sophomore from Ghana, having posted truly unbelievable numbers with Torre Levante C.F. in Spain last year: 23 goals and 18 assists in 20 matches.

As for Richard Nuttall, he believes in his team and their ability to succeed.

“My expectation is that all of the players give everything all of the time,” said Nuttall. “That’s all I’m looking for. I believe we’ve got talent, and if that happens, I believe we can win some games.”

In a conference as competitive as the CAA, winning games and simply advancing to a conference championship, never mind winning one, are difficult thing to accomplish. Teams such as Delaware boast tremendous talent in the likes of reigning CAA Rookie of the Year, Guillermo Delgado, who led the conference with 15 goals last year.

Competing with players of that caliber will take discipline, perseverance and unity from the Pride if they intend on reaching a CAA Championship and possibly an NCAA Tournament.

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