By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer
Heading into the 2014 season, the Dayton men’s soccer team understood it was going to face a tall task with seven starters and nine seniors having graduated that year. The departures left major vacancies in the Flyers’ depth chart.
The young players handled the stiff challenge well, but in the end the inexperience was evident as the team failed to close out important games.
In what was a microcosm of the whole season, UD’s year ended on Thursday in a 1-0 loss to No. 1 seed Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Keeping pace with nationally-competitive teams like Saint Louis University, the University of Maryland and Davidson College, the Flyers finished the season with a record of 7-7-5, in a year that seemed to be one of rebuilding.
“We took the preseason to gauge where we were,” head coach Dennis Currier said. “We had to restructure our goals.”
During the season, Dayton played six nationally-ranked teams. The biggest wins came at home against Ohio State University and Davidson on back-to-back weekends.
“This is probably one of the first years we were able to dominate those big games,” Currier said. “That definitely played a mental role for the team.”
Junior midfielder Brian Bates said he will remember the wins against the nationally ranked opponents.
“After we started coming together, we played our best soccer,” he said. “In the middle of the season, we were playing with some of the best teams in the country.”
At that point in the year, UD was competing for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. However, they hit a few bumps in the road during crucial conference games.
After a big win against the University of Massachusetts, Dayton suffered a loss to Rhode Island, conceding the deciding goal in overtime. Then in the following game, the Flyers held a long lead against Saint Louis University before a late penalty allowed the equalizing goal.
“Letting up those goals down the stretch shook our confidence,” Bates said.
Currier felt the same way as the Flyers went on to lose twice and tie once over their next three games. The team regained a bit of momentum as they defeated St Joseph’s convincingly in the final regular season match.
Dayton made the A-10 tournament, a preseason goal, but had to face top-seeded Rhode Island. As they did in the regular season, the Rams won by a single goal.
“I thought we performed well against Rhode Island,” Bates said, “we just weren’t able to get the result we wanted.”
“We played very good soccer this year,” said Currier. “We gained a lot of good experience and played a lot of good teams.”
Much of the success of this season came from a handful of new players on the squad. Namely, sophomore defender Lalas Abubakar energized the team.
He returns next season for the Flyers.
“Lalas was a really strong defender for the whole season,” Bates said of the first-year Flyer. “He really cares for other guys and believes in the team.”
“He was our best player all year,” Currier said. “He really made the team run.”
Currier is confident that another year of experience will make Abubakar one of the best defenders in the A-10.
The real lessons this season came out of the games that Dayton let slip through their fingers in the closing minutes. Moving forward, the players know that consistency is the key to success.
“We need to develop a stronger mentality and finish out those close games,” Bates said of the team. He added, “[We] need to become more consistent offensively, to score and produce throughout all games.”
“We just have to get that final piece,” Currier said. “If we do, this is a team that could make the NCAA tournament and be a top-25 contender.”
The team gained valuable experience and learned important lessons during the 2014 season. Spirits are high heading into the offseason as the team looks to build upon its talents and experience and to strongly contend in the A-10 in next season.