The Muhlenberg men’s soccer team opened the fall season on Sept. 4, traveling up to Northeastern, Pennsylvania to face the University of Scranton Royals. They left Scranton with a 2-0 victory, and only three days later, Sept. 7, grabbed another decisive road win against the Centenary University Cyclones, 5-0. The team’s first home game would see the Mules face off against the—at the time—9th ranked team in D-III soccer, the Messiah University Falcons.
Following a score given up by both teams, the match headed into two overtime periods. Both teams tightened their defenses and forced the game to end in a tie 1-1.
Although playing strong against one of D-III soccer’s powerhouses is an outstanding achievement, the Mules are seeking to achieve greater than a tie. Winger Francois D’Elia ‘23 believes that the Messiah game showed that the team had immense potential, but also some areas of improvement.
“I think the Messiah game taught us that we can play with anybody and that we can still get a lot better and need to improve to turn that tie into a win for us,” said D’Elia. “Everybody gave everything they had in the game, and it was overall great to get a result at home against one of the best programs in the country in Messiah, but we’re definitely still motivated. We know we have the potential to be a great team this season and have big goals to try and achieve.”
After the tie, the Mules captured two subsequent 1-0 victories against the DeSales University Bulldogs at home and McDaniel College Green Terror away in their first Centennial Conference game of the season. A defensive-minded squad has become the Mules’ identity. “I think defensively we’ve been very good with only one goal given up in five games. Everybody is really willing to work and take pride in that,” D’Elia said. “Improvement-wise, I think it’s just about getting better every day and not dropping focus, [and] treating every opponent as our most important opponent.”
With a 4-0-1 record and Centennial play fast approaching, Head Coach Sean Topping ‘98 is pleased with the team’s early-season success but looks forward to seeing his squad at their full potential. “I have been very pleased with the start to the season. I feel that the team came into preseason camp prepared, and that gave us a great foundation to build on for the season.”
Topping also noted the team’s great play on the defensive side of the field but shares that the team still has needed improvements. “Muhlenberg has always been known for a tough defending team and I think we have that back this season so far. We do a really good job at building in the back and through the middle third but need to combine a bit more and make better decisions with our final passes in the attacking 3rd.”
Not only have the expected returning players contributed early on this season, there have been some surprising underclassmen who have stepped in and gotten some serious playing time. “I think the freshman class is great both off the field and as soccer players,” D’Elia says.
The soccer team boasts a unique cast of upperclassmen who have spent significant amounts of time with each other. They are a group of players who have had both experience back in their last full season 2019, but also guys who are finally cracking the starting line-up. “It has been great to see Reuben Oshman [‘22] finally making an impact in the starting lineup after a few years of injuries,” Topping said. “Brendan Duffy [‘23] has been solid in goal and Mark Walter [‘22] & Chris Richards [‘23] have picked up where they left off in 2019 having very good starts to the season.”
The strength of the team is not just its returning upperclassmen, but the sudden emergence of several underclassmen. Topping is impressed with the amount of new contributing players. “I think one of the major strengths of our team this year is the tremendous depth we have all over the field… We have some first year players breaking into the lineup which is always great to see and some older players bringing their experience into the lineup.”
“Our outside backs have been fantastic in two sophomore players, Caleb Herring [‘24] and Zach Mikuta [‘24]. Their workrate and athleticism make life difficult for opposing wingers,” said Topping.
The Mules are currently ranked 17th in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 NCAA D-III Poll and are set to travel to Misericordia University on Sept. 22 to challenge the Cougars before coming back Sept. 25 to open their bulk of Centennial Conference play against the Washington College Shoremen.