The University of Maine men’s soccer team won three games last season after winning just two in the previous two seasons combined. That included an 0-17 season in 2006.
Just eight games into this season, second-year coach Pat Laughlin and his Black Bears already have three wins and a tie in eight games.
And they have posted three consecutive shutouts to give them four on the season.
They had only one shutout last fall.
Laughlin said one of the things he has harped on is to “not give away [cheap] goals.”
“Our backs are doing a great job,” said Maine junior goalie Nemanja Kostic. “Our whole team is doing well, defensively.”
Seniors Kyle LeDuc of Topsham and Corey Sinclair; sophomore Mike Moloney and freshman Dan Tannous comprised the back four. Falmouth freshman Seth Alpert has also supplied them with quality minutes.
Laughlin said one of the reasons for the defensive improvement is the fact his players have been defending beyond the defensive third.
“We’ve been playing defense in the midfield and in the attacking third, too,” said Laughlin.
He added that his team has “had the ball more” which has also limited the opponents’ attack and he has received solid play from Kostic (2-2-2, 0.67 goals-against average, .857 save percentage). Freshman backup Alexi Pilitsis from Brunswick (1-2, 1.92, .692) has shown promise, he said.
“This team has improved so much,” said junior midfielder Jordan Antonucci. “I’ve been here three years and this is, by far, the strongest team we’ve ever had.”
Senior striker Dimitri Anastasiou agreed.
“This team definitely has the most talent and the most desire to win, for sure,” said Anastasiou.
University of Maryland-Baltimore County coach Pete Caringi, whose Retrievers battled to a 0-0 double overtime tie with Maine after beating them 3-0 a year ago in Baltimore, said Maine has improved significantly.
“They’re playing much better than they have in the past. [Laughlin] seems like he has them well-organized,” said Caringi.
“They’re solid,” said UMBC senior goalie Steve King.
Laughlin said the team chemistry has been another positive.
“Everybody has stepped up and accepted the challenge [to improve the program], whether they’re playing or not,” said Laughlin. “We have a real positive environment. It’s really exciting.”
Maine has already scored 10 goals, one more than last year’s final tally. Junior midfielder Nikola Bogdanovic leads the team with two goals and three assists with Anastasiou and freshman Ross Seagram contributing two goals apiece.
Maine visits New Hampshire on Wednesday.
Swallow out 2-3 weeks
University of Maine junior center Kevin Swallow, a Dartmouth College transfer who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, may not be sidelined as long as first thought after suffering a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s Blue-White intra-squad scrimmage.
“We were originally worried he might be out four to six weeks but now it looks like two to three weeks,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
There is a chance he could play the opening weekend against Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks on Oct. 17-18 but Whitehead said the Hockey East opening weekend against Northeastern on Oct. 24-25 are more “realistic.”
Swallow had eight goals and 14 assists in 32 games with Dartmouth two years ago.
Former Bangor High School star Nick Payson was the other redshirt with Swallow last season and he and linemates Glenn Belmore and Lem Randall caught Whitehead’s eye.
Belmore had two goals, Randall had two assists and Payson had an assist.
“They were a very big plus,” said Whitehead who particularly liked their physicality and intelligent play.
Sophomore defenseman Mike Banwell and freshman defenseman Mark Nemec were also praised for their play by Whitehead, who was impressed by all of his newcomers.
Maine visits the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton for an exhibition series this weekend.