Following each of the last two regular seasons, the Felician University men's soccer team missed out on qualifying for the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) playoffs by one slot. Such knowledge has strengthened the resolve of the 2019 team to break through and return the Golden Falcons to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Felician returns only seven veterans who saw 2018 game action. But an influx of first-year players and transfers, along with returnees from 2017 who sat out last year, have created a new energy around the program.
"Our coaching staff feels we have the right blend to make that push into the top eight in the conference," said sixth-year head coach Erik Kotynski, a 2002 graduate of Felician. "In previous seasons we were very dependent on individual players to carry our offense. This year we are much more balanced in the midfield and the front line and expect to create plenty of scoring opportunities."
GOALKEEPERS: Senior Joe Sartori (Wood-Ridge, N.J./Wood-Ridge), the incumbent starter, and redshirt freshman Alex Ficarra (Phillipsburg, N.J./Notre Dame-Red Pond [Pa.]) represent the last line of defense. They challenge each other daily for the starting role.
DEFENDERS: Fifth-year seniors Kevin Valdivia (Hawthorne, N.J./PCTI) and Dean Wright (Dublin, Ireland/Colaiste Choilm) and transfer Alexandros Avraamides (Nicosia, Cyprus/Paignton Academy [U.K.]) are expected to lead and guide the back line. But a trio of freshmen – Nebi Ademi (Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills), Alex Kiwowicz (Garfield, N.J./Paramus Catholic) and Enrique Nunez (Garfield, N.J./Garfield) – has made a strong case for immediate playing time.
"Of all of our units, the back line has had the most competition in the preseason, with numerous players competing for starting spots," Kotynski said. "We've also been impressed with the ability of the freshmen to adapt to the speed of play and show they belong on the field at the collegiate level."
Strong offseason work by sophomore Denilson De Las Casas (Clifton, N.J./Clifton) could lead to an increased role, and redshirt freshman Julian DiLeo (Wayne, N.J./Paramus Catholic) will push the starters.
MIDFIELDERS: Senior Estuardo Borja (Kearny, N.J/Kearny) is the midfield veteran. The Golden Falcons have surrounded him with potentially dynamic new talent. Transfer Jorge Zerna (Paterson, N.J./St. Benedict's Prep) is, like Borja, Ecuadorian-born. Spanish imports Guillermo Sanchez Duque (Malaga, Spain/IES Mayorazgo), a junior transfer, and freshman Eduardo Rossi (Madrid, Spain/Colegio Virgen de Europa) are also likely starters.
"For the most part, our midfield is fresh, new and exciting," Kotynski said. "Each individual brings something different to the game, but they have also shown they know when and how to play off each other."
FORWARDS: Senior Chris McLaughlin (Hollis, N.Y./Preparatory Academy for Writers) is the leading returning scorer, with five goals last year and 14 for his career. Redshirt sophomore Leo Yang (Seoul, South Korea/Queen of Peace [N.J.]) is back after an injury-plagued 2018, and the coaches have high hopes for true freshman Diego Duffort (Madrid, Spain/Colegio San Patricio), who comes to Rutherford following several years playing in the Real Madrid youth academy.
"In Chris and Leo, we have two tremendous outlets on the outside who can put defenses off balance with their ability on the ball," Kotynski said. "They both also have good enough pace to play a bit more direct. Diego has displayed consistent composure on the ball and the ability to finish from everywhere."