Men's soccer preview: Bobcats look to form team identity, take next step in the NESCAC

Junior captain Blaise Marceau leads a young but talented Bates men's soccer defense into the 2019 season. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- In head coach Tyler Sheikh's first season at the helm, the Bates men's soccer team got off to its best start in NESCAC action since 2005 thanks to three straight wins in September over the likes of Wesleyan, Williams and Trinity. But the rest of the 2018 campaign did not go as planned. Despite finishing with an overall record of 8-7, the Bobcats struggled to a 3-7 finish in conference play. Boosted by a large first-year class and some key returnees, Sheikh and the Bobcats are excited about what lies ahead in 2019. 

Bates opens its 2019 season Tuesday with a road match at the University of Maine-Farmington which gets underway at 3pm. Then the Bobcats travel to Hamilton for the NESCAC opener, Saturday at 1:30pm. The first chance for Bates fans to see the Bobcats on the refurbished Russell Street Field is Tuesday, September 10th at 4:30pm when the University of New England comes to town. 

"I think our biggest challenge is going to be forming a team identity especially with so many newcomers," senior captain Peder Bakken (Seattle, Wash.) said. "But then also as a team goal, let's just beat Hamilton (to start the year). Let's beat UMF. Our first two games of the season, let's start with wins. Let's focus there and then we'll take it from there."

Bakken, a center midfielder and second team All-NESCAC selection last year, is Bates' leading returning scorer. He paced the Bobcats in points last season with 11, scoring a team-high four goals and finishing tied for the team lead in assists with three. Bakken proved to be a very clutch player, scoring three game-winning goals along the way. 

A strong senior class supports Bakken offensively, highlighted by forwards Eric Opoku (Accra, Ghana), Austin Sansone (New York, N.Y.) and Beaufils Kimpolo-Pene (Bronx, N.Y.).

Opoku finished second on the team in points in 2018, scoring three goals and dishing out one assist on the season. With his explosive speed, Opoku has been a contributor on offense his entire time at Bates, entering 2019 with eight career goals and six career assists. 

Sansone scored three goals last season in a break-through junior year, and two years ago Kimpolo-Pene found the back of the net six times. 

"We're going to try and squeeze some more out of Beau; I know he had a monster sophomore season," Sheikh said. "My predecessor (former Bates head coach Stewart Flaherty) did a great job leaving such a fantastic foundation."

"And Beau and Eric have those qualities that can change a game on its head. We know about them. Problem is everyone else knows about them too. So how can we incorporate them into the team set-up where everyone's buzzing? We don't want to be a one-trick pony or a two-trick pony. When we play against a team, I want our opponents to be taking stock of every position as a potential scorer."

On offense, Bates fans should also watch out for sophomore Ciaran Bardong (Manhasset, N.Y.), who burst on the scene last year as a walk-on with two game-winning goals and two assists.

A pair of seniors: midfielder Liam Goldfarb (New York, N.Y.) and defender Julien Williamson (Sandy, Utah), provide some of the glue that holds the team together. Goldfarb saw action in 12 matches, starting two last year. He finished tied with Bakken for the team-lead in assists with three. Meanwhile, Williamson started 14 matches on defense, handling most of the throw-ins and dishing out one assist on the year.

Speaking of defense, junior captain Blaise Marceau (Newton, Mass.) leads a young unit that is eager to show what it can do. Marceau follows in the footsteps of older brother Aleks Marceau '19, who captained the Bobcats last year.

"I'm really honored to be in this position," Marceau said. "And with Aleks as the head captain last year, it's really cool to talk to him every day on the phone about how to do this, how to do that. I have so many questions for him every day, and it's great to get that guidance from him."

Marceau started every match on defense last year, as did sophomore James Peter (York, Maine). Standing at six feet, five inches, sophomore Frederick Hohmann (Bonn, Germany) made an immediate impact on defense as well as a first-year, even scoring a goal at Bowdoin. 

But the big question that doesn't have an answer yet is: who starts between the pipes as the goalkeeper for Bates in 2019?

Robbie Montanaro '19 started 43 matches during his time as a Bobcat. He is currently pursuing a professional career in Europe. There are three candidates to replace him: senior Owen Lindenfeldar (Pennington, N.J.), junior David Goodstein (Bethesda, Md.) and first-year Ryan Manning (Belchertown, Mass.).

"When you lose a player like Robbie, who's off in Scotland right now pursuing dreams, it's something that creates sort of a vacuum, and I think we got three good players getting sucked up there," Sheikh said. "And whoever's positioned there we know they have to perform at an all-conference type standard and I think out of the three of them, they can do it."

Lindenfeldar played 146:46 minutes in goal the last three years combined, without allowing a score. He's recorded five saves and has one win to his credit. Goodstein started two matches last season and picked up two wins without allowing a goal. He recorded four saves in 165:23 minutes. 

Manning is part of a massive men's soccer recruiting class, which features 17 first-year student-athletes. Throw in two transfers -- sophomore forward Alec Szwarcewicz (Newton, Mass.) from College of Holy Cross, and sophomore midfielder Owen Keleher (Corrales, N.M.) from Knox College -- and the Bobcats look very different from a year ago.

"I needed to get up to speed quickly last year, and I thought we'd be in a different place this season but it's kind of the same thing all over again," Sheikh said. "But obviously the returners and I are in great spirits and feeling great about welcoming these newcomers. Ultimately it takes time, this isn't going to happen overnight, but championships are the goal with what we're doing and we're trying to strive for that championship standard daily."