BU Men’s Soccer: Ready for Prime Time
Climbing the rankings, Terriers face Eagles tonight
The Green Line rivalry renews tonight.
But this time, the opening venue for the annual crosstown slugfest between the Boston University Terriers and the Boston College Eagles is not Agganis Arena or Conte Forum.
Nickerson Field is the site, men’s soccer teams the opponents. And this one’s going national, to be broadcast live on the Fox Soccer Channel at 8 p.m.
While the Eagles have been known to overshadow the Terriers when it comes to athletics (except hockey, of course), media attention for this game focuses on BU. National preseason polls ranked the Terriers 24th in the country. Courtesy of a few early wins, they now sit at 14. After an upset over top-five-ranked St. John’s University, BU could be looking at a home in the top 10.
For head coach Neil Roberts, in his 25th year running BU soccer, the recognition from experts around the country is nice. But national exposure also means something more concrete: better opportunities to showcase the program and attract strong talent.
“Recruiting has gone well the last couple of years,” says Roberts. “We’ve obviously brought in some pretty good players, some good kids, and we hope to continue that.”
He also notes that the University’s rigorous academic standards dictate that BU coaches find players who are well rounded, who don’t fit into the mold of a big-school collegiate athlete focused only on the sport. That broader perspective is expressed on the field as well. “We’re looking for kids who can fit in our style of play,” he says.
That style, according to Roberts, is more cerebral than physical, one that develops a little more slowly. He attributes the difference directly to the character of his players.
One of those players is forward Aaron O’Neal (CAS’11) of Virginia Beach, Va. O’Neal did not start the September 1 season opener against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, but the America East Rookie of the Year of two years ago and regular on the conference leader board already has four goals this season, as many as he scored all last year. As a sophomore, he was moved from forward to midfield, where he saw fewer scoring opportunities in favor of being able to set up his teammates. Now he’s back to forward.
O’Neal fits Roberts’ model of a BU soccer player: flexible and team-oriented. As good as he is, his coach believes he can get better, especially by becoming more self-confident. If four goals in three games is O’Neal lacking confidence, it’ll be interesting to see what he does as his self-esteem grows.
One player who shows no signs of insecurity is Michael Bustamante (CGS’10). A native of Chelsea, Mass., Bustamante displays his athletic prowess at midfield, taking on two defenders at once — and beating them often enough — or making a backwards pass that suggests he has eyes in the back of his head. As a freshman, Bustamante earned AE Midfielder of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors.
“He’s a good athlete, very technical, an extremely good passer,” says Roberts.
A key piece in the Terrier team is goaltender Hrafn Davidsson (ENG’10). At 6 feet, 4 inches, and 190 pounds, Davidsson is an imposing force in net, replete with talent. He was 37th in the nation, with a 0.813 goals-against average, and had 11 shutouts last season.
Like most BU athletes, the Icelandic native has a backup plan if he doesn’t play professional soccer: “He can always become an engineer,” says Roberts.
That’s not out of character for this team, one that is climbing the national polls in spite of, or perhaps because of, the diverse personalities of its members. That makes them one of the most enjoyable groups Roberts has coached in a quarter-century.
“We have so many guys who have the ability to do special things,” he says. “You don’t know who’s going to do it next game. And that’s a good team.”
The Terriers and Eagles take to Nickerson Field tonight, September 18, at 8 p.m. The first 300 BU students to arrive receive a GoTerriers.com LED flashlight. The game will be televised live on Fox Soccer Channel.
And that’s not all for soccer this weekend. The women’s team hosts Harvard on Sunday, September 20, at 5 p.m., also at Nickerson. The game will also be nationally televised on Fox.
Josh Cain can be reached at email@example.com Comments