The Syracuse Orange opened the 2021 men’s soccer season with a convincing win over the Drexel Dragons. After a dismal 2020 campaign, opening this season with a win is the best way to get the confidence up.
Off the opening kick, the Orange had a different look from last season, starting seven new faces in the XI. Returning goalkeeper Russell Shealey, midfielders Jeorgio Kocevski and Amferny Sinclair, and forward Deandre Kerr were the holdovers from the prior season. They’re being met with a completely new back line of Christian Curti, Max Kent and Buster Sjoberg, wingbacks Giona Liebold and Luke Biasi and forwards Colin Biros and Julius Rauch. Also of note, the team is rocking the classic “orange waldo” jerseys with the script Syracuse on them, which are looking sharp.
Right out of the gate the Orange took the pressure to the Dragons and rarely let up for the entire match. It looks like Coach Ian McIntyre is pressing the Orange up a little more defensively and the energy level was up on that end of the field. Syracuse pushed the ball wide and used the wings much as they have in the recent McIntyre era, pushing the wingbacks forward and looking to cross in to the forwards. The front three also looked to be a fluid trio, with Biros, and then Curt Calov when subbed after, tucking behind either Rauch, Kerr or Francisco Pagano leading the line and the other drifting wide.
The game got very chippy towards the end of the first half, with both sides getting a bit stuck in on some tackles and retaliating. They physicality ratcheted up as the fatigue set in on the humid and steamy pitch. That edge never really left the rest of the game. The way Drexel was having to defend Kerr saw defenders having to professionally foul him to keep him from making a slick move past (at least three times) or running past them. His decisions were forcing their play, which means his game was working.
The second half continued the physical play from the jump, with Giono Leibold getting an early yellow as well as his Drexel counterpart for a bit of point-counterpoint fouling. Though in control already, as the game progressed, the Orange had some much better passing sequencing and were able to work their ball control, leading to more chances. The 65th minute led to a set piece drawn by Deandre Kerr, which set up Kocevski serving the ball to the head of Sjoberg on the edge of the 18 yard box who headed it into the path of Biros, with a cheeky back heel flick into the goal to open scoring for the Orange. A fitting return for Biros, the Akron grad transfer, who scored his first collegiate goal against Syracuse. The second goal was off a corner, served low, that Christian Curti got on the end of to put the Orange up. It wasn’t his only good look of the game, and all three defenders were dangerous on set pieces.
Much as he has through his career, Amferny Sinclair controlled the midfield, to the point that Drexel was unable to attack through the middle and tried to push wide or over the top to no avail. He popped up repeatedly in spots that I didn’t think he’d be able to show up.
Defensively, Buster Sjoberg looked to take over Sondre Norheim’s right center back role and slide into it with a little less attacking and a little more physicality and aerial prowess. Max Kent played solid in the middle in his first action in Orange after being named one of the captains.
Pagano looked solid in his debut, with a few shots, including a peppered shot just over the bar. He brought a physicality and willingness to take on defenders that was lacking outside of Deandre Kerr. Other newcomers Curt Calov and Julius Rauch looked solid in a front three. Kerr was the most dangerous player on the park and was focused defensively with good reason. He had a few good looks and got stonewalled on a beautiful save from Drexel keeper Cameron Sanders. With 15 minutes left, Biros returned to the field for an injured Kerr, likely as a precautionary measure with the game in hand at that point.
A solid opening night for the Orange, allowing them to work on a bit of chemistry at full game speed. Syracuse does, however return to the meat grinder this weekend, as they travel to take on the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions this Sunday at 7 pm in State College.