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Comeback Men’s Soccer Terriers Make Patriot League Semifinals

Team looking to best Holy Cross, finish an improbable run on top

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The 2017 season began inauspiciously for the BU men’s soccer team: five straight losses. The Terriers had just lost their star player, Anthony Viteri (CGS’16, Questrom’18), to a series of concussions. But the BU players resolved to finish the season strong. “This season’s just started. It’s not over by a long shot,” Adam Sheikali (CAS’18) told BU Today after those early losses.

That confidence turned out to be well-founded. The Terriers picked themselves up and went on to post a 7-8-3 record (6-2-1, conference), good for second place in the Patriot League. The come-from-behind turnaround was impossible to miss, with the finish even better than players had hoped for, Sheikali says. And tonight the Terriers hope to move one notch closer to the championship title when they go up against Holy Cross in the league semifinals at Loyola University in Baltimore.

“We got sick of losing,” says T. J. Butzke (COM’19), “and it got to the point where we all just made it a priority and our main goal to turn the season around.” After that string of early losses, the players came together in the locker room late one night, Butzke says, and addressed the areas they needed to work on, including attitude during practice. Result: almost immediate improvement.

“They’ve really fought their way through it and kept doing what they had to do to win games,” says head coach Neil Roberts.

What the Terriers had to do was mount a tough defense: in conference play, BU was the coleader in goals allowed, limiting opponents to seven goals over nine games. Excluding their disappointing 4-0 defeat by Colgate in the last regular season match November 3, they held opponents to a mere three goals over eight games.

That strong defense has earned team members six All-Conference awards: defender Sheikali and goalkeeper Michael Bernardi (Questrom’20), along with Toti Knutsson (CAS’21), were named to the second team, and defender Elias Lampis (CGS’19), midfielder Peter Kargbo (CGS’19), and forward Matt McDonnell (Questrom’20) made the third team.

Boston University Men's Soccer player Toti Knutsson

Toti Knutsson (CAS’21) (right) led the team with 11 points during the regular season. His efforts earned him a spot on the All-Patriot League second team.

The Terriers aren’t taking anything for granted as they head into tonight’s semifinals, especially after their blistering loss to Colgate, which cost them the number-one seed and the opportunity to host the league tournament.

“We got put in a spotlight—the big moment, big game—and everything was on the line,” Roberts says. “What it showed was that we just weren’t ready for the situation yet, which is fine. We need to make sure that now we’re better prepared for it.”

“Now is the big test,” Knutsson acknowledges. “It’s not the right time to talk about having a great season. We have a lot to do.”

As the Terriers prepare for tonight’s Holy Cross game, they’re hoping for a repeat of their last matchup with the Crusaders—a 3-0 victory. If they win tonight, they advance to the championship game Sunday afternoon at Loyola.

“We want to get to the championship game. That’s all we’re really worried about right now,” Roberts says. “It’s all hands on deck to try to get to Sunday.”

The BU men’s soccer team takes on Holy Cross in a Patriot League Tournament semifinal matchup tonight, Friday, November 10, at 8 p.m. All tournament games are being played at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex, Baltimore, Md. The winner advances to the final on Sunday, November 12, at 3 p.m., against the winner of tonight’s earlier semifinal game, Colgate vs Loyola. The Patriot League Network will broadcast the games live.

Jonathan Chang can be reached at jchang19@bu.edu.

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