A 1-5 record to start the season tested the mettle and unity of the new-look MSU Denver men’s soccer team.
The Roadrunners started their campaign with five consecutive one-goal losses before a 3-2 victory at South Dakota School of Mines on Sept. 17, capped by the program’s first loss to Colorado Christian University since 2002. This skid came on the coattails of a successful 2016 season in which the team posted an overall record of 12-6-2, the third best in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. However, of the 11 players that posted more than 1,000 minutes played last year, only three have returned for this year’s squad. While it isn’t the definitive reason for the team’s early struggles, the turnover and disrupted chemistry put the club a step behind.
“There’s a puzzle being made, and you’re starting to put the pieces in the board, and we think we’re just about at the place where you can start to see the whole picture even though all the pieces aren’t in place yet,” head coach Jeremy Tittle said. “So we think we’re about to turn a corner.”
Tittle, entering his third season at the helm of the club, is not ready to push the panic button yet. All of the losses thus far were against tough competition like St. Edward’s University, who was ranked No. 7 nationally in the NCAA Division II coaches poll following their match with MSU Denver. Against Seattle Pacific University on Sept. 7, the match was tied in the 87th minute when the Falcons scored the game-deciding goal.
There may even be a case that the Roadrunners were the better team in some of those games but the players know that point is moot if the score doesn’t reflect it.
“Most games we were the better team, and we lost games because of individual mistakes,” sophomore Yannick Schad said. “In the end, it’s the goal to win the game. No one talks about the better team.”
Schad is one of three returning starters and took on a leadership role in his second season, despite being the youngest player on last year’s team. He joins a new core of players at the forefront of the clubhouse like fellow sophomore Dylan Wood, junior goalkeeper
James Tanner and seniors Luan Silva and Justin Glivar. In this new era of Roadrunners soccer, the team attempts to build chemistry with player additions in the double digits this season.
Glivar has been a member of the last three Roadrunners teams and has seen the program reach three consecutive RMAC tournaments. He is the only player on the roster in his fourth year of eligibility.
“It’s been different just because we’ve got a lot of new faces in that transition,” Glivar said. “I would say it’s more of a challenge than it is difficult, just getting each other bought into the process we’re trying to do here at Metro State.”
He noted there have been specifically tasking moments, but even through the less than ideal start and the stress that it brings, the team continues to grow more unified as the season progresses.
The players are trying to stay positive, but the proximity to victory in all of their losses was taxing.
“The way we lost the games, that’s what bothers me. I think with the ability we have on the team, we didn’t have to lose those games,” said freshman Moritz Walther, who leads the team with two goals and has been one of the central newcomers.
The challenges of coming close and walking away empty-handed repeatedly was frustrating, a point echoed by Tittle.
“It’s testing at times because they want to do well, they want to get it right, they want to start putting games together that turn into W’s. But I don’t think it’s unmanageable,” he said.
He was satisfied with how the team formed a cohesive unit after playing together for only six games.
Alternatively, falling just short has also told the team they aren’t far off of where they want to be, a point legitimized by their first win. They believe that correcting the communication errors and small mistakes will put them on the right path. The drastic changes that may be applicable to most winless starts don’t necessarily need to happen at MSU Denver.
Tittle acknowledged that they have changed their training routines and rhythm, but the overall game plan and weekly schedule has remained the same to promote consistency.
“As a team, we need to stay consistent. The games were so close, we were mostly the better team,” Schad said. “Trust the process, trust the tactics and stop doing the mistakes that punish us.”
Going forward, they play South Dakota School of Mines for the second time on Sept. 22, then take a week of rest before visiting Regis University on Sept. 29. They will continue to build chemistry and solidify their team play to turn close losses into wins.