Men’s soccer preview: Three exhibition wins propel Flyers into regular season with high hopes

Seniors Elias Harryson (No. 3, attempting bicycle kick) and Kingsford Adjei (No. 10) will be important players and leaders for the Flyers this season following last season’s exit in the Atlantic 10 semifinals. Photo courtesy of Griffin Quinn, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor

Friday night’s 1-0 win in an exhibition match against Bellarmine at Baujan Field was another chance for the Dayton Flyers men’s soccer team to improve, with a more dominant 5-0 exhibition match against Wabash following on Sunday.

After Sunday’s match, the Flyers will be off until next Friday, Aug. 27, when they will take on UAB in the Ohio State Invitational in Columbus. The Flyers will take on Memphis on Aug. 29 at 11 a.m. before the home regular season schedule begins with Incarnate Word on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.

This preseason, the Flyers have three wins sealed away, beating IUPUI 4-2 Aug. 17 in their other exhibition match. The goalscorers for the Flyers in that match were senior defender Elias Harryson, sophomore wide midfielder Michael Adedokun, senior midfielder Jake Feiner and junior forward Forster Ajago, a transfer from Delaware. 

In Friday’s match, junior attacking midfielder Andy Sanchez provided the winning goal for the Flyers in the 75th minute of the exhibition win over Bellarmine. 

Sophomore Geni Kanyane, junior Seth Antwi, senior Cooper Knecht, sophomore Tyler Swanbeck and junior Manny Day all scored in Sunday’s 5-0 win. 

One major challenge for head coach Dennis Currier will be to replace Jonas Fjeldberg, who was drafted by Major League Soccer’s FC Cincinnati after tallying 43 goal contributions (22 goals, 21 assists) in his four years at UD.

 “I think it’s not gonna come from one individual player with (senior attacking midfielder) Kingsford (Adjei) out as well with injury,” Currier said. “So that’s where you’ve got to find different people to replace those goals, and we’ve got to have an offense that’s a little bit more diverse and find different guys that can score.” 

With less than one week left before the games that count start, Currier said the team is getting used to playing with each and finding the right combinations to find a rhythm over a full 90 minutes. 

“Our biggest goal is to get started well out of the gates,” Currier said. “Last spring, we started slow… so this preseason is about can we start off really strong early on, and hopefully we can complete that mission after Sunday and get ready for the games next weekend.”

Currier’s team is full of returning starters, losing only Fjeldberg and freshman forward Toluwalase Oladienbo, who was named Second Team All-Conference with 5 goal contributions in 9 games played, as regular starters from last season. Beginning at the back, the Flyers will have Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team goalkeeper Marc Kouadio. The sophomore from Montreal recorded 41 saves last year in 849 minutes played. 

In front of Kouadio, the Flyers went with what looked like a back four during Friday’s friendly, led by the senior Harryson at center back. Joining the Second Team All-Conference defender at center back was junior Ntezey Swalita, a transfer from Memphis. Flanking the two defenders was left back Kanyane and junior right back Xavier Zengue. Kanyane appeared in 7 games last year, while Zengue played in 2. 

As one of three seniors who regularly start, Harryson’s role will be to provide veteran leadership. 

“I just try to keep everyone going,” Harryson said. “I’ve been here for a lot of years now, and I have experienced a lot of things. I just try to help out the new guys and establish that team culture that coach Currier wants us to have here, and we just won that (A-10 regular season) championship last year, and I just want to run it back and see what we can do.”

The Swedish center back hopes to help the team achieve success and reach their potential.

“I’m confident we will have a good season if we do the small things right, and keep fighting hard.”

In front of Harryson on Friday was roaming defensive midfielder Antwi, who started 8 games (missed one with a red card) and played 709 minutes. 

Moving forward into attack, four players made up an attacking midfield in front of Antwi, led by senior Feiner and Friday’s goalscorer Sanchez in central attacking positions. Out on the wings, Adedokun patrolled the left, while junior Jaden Jones-Riley took up the right. Between the four of them last season, they each played in at least 8 games, and totaled 4 goals and 5 assists. 

A host of other midfielders can step in to back up any of the four. In Friday’s game, Knecht, Swanbeck, freshman Romeo Yao and transfer Pape Oumar Gueye from Radford saw playing time. 

Finally, the forward position was taken up by Ajago, who scored and assisted a goal at Delaware during the spring season. Junior Josh Darius did not see action Friday, but played in all 9 games and scored 2 goals and assisted 1. 

Missing from Friday’s game but likely to start at attacking midfielder/winger throughout the season is senior Kingsford Adjei, who tied with Fjeldberg to lead the team with 5 goals and 4 assists.

The Ghanian was also named A-10 Midfielder of the Year for the second straight year, and earned All-Conference preseason honors. Adjei likes what he sees in the team this year.

“I think this year, and this season in particular, we got a very strong team,” Adjei said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of diversity in this team as well. In preseason, that’s how we got to figure out how we are going to play, and to figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that we can grow.”

As a senior like Harryson, Adjei now steps into an even bigger leadership role.

“I’ve been here for a couple of years now, so the freshmen and transfers coming in, we’ve got to lead and let them know how the system works over here. So, what I can do is just keep doing what I’m doing, and I’ve got great teammates and a great team, who help me achieve the things that I achieve, and it’s not personal, it’s always the team first before yourself. So I just keep doing (what I’m doing), set the example, and the ones coming along to follow and do the right things at the right time.”

Of the transfers, Gueye, Ajago and Swalita have already seen action and made a difference in the preseason matches, while freshman Yao has also made an appearance. Forward Seni Joseph and defender Christian Graham have also entered into the Flyers team as freshmen.

“I thought that the new guys have performed well,” Currier said. “I think anytime you’re coming into our system, it takes time just because we do have a very dynamic offense, and we have a lot of movement in our offense, and we have a lot of demands from each of our guys. So anybody coming in new, whether you’re a freshman or whether you’re a transfer, you’re trying to get used to that. But I thought all of them have adjusted well.”

Currier also said having a preseason during the summer again has provided more time and availability for training, and feels “more normal” than during the spring season. 

“Hopefully this time has given us enough time to get (the players) prepared to get a good start of the season. We know we’ve got a very difficult schedule coming up and hopefully we prepare the team well enough where we can jump out and get a couple of wins early on.”

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