The Central Connecticut State menâ€™s soccer team is starting fresh in its post-2020 era.
As interim head coach David Kelly enters his first full season as a head coach, the Blue Devils will work to build off of the 3-3-1 campaign they completed under Kelly in the spring of 2021. Playing a complete schedule for the first time since 2019, when it went 1-13-1 for the second year in a row, CCSU is pursuing its first winning season since 2011 as it looks to contend in the competitive Northeast Conference.
â€śThe energy is very good, thereâ€™s a lot of optimism,â€ť Kelly said. â€śThe guys understand that this is a big project and it requires a certain attitude, and a certain mindset and a certain type of character. Itâ€™s a big challenge, but I think Iâ€™ve got the right guys and I think theyâ€™re up for it. Thereâ€™s a really good spirit in the camp and a real strong enthusiasm and hopefully we can carry that forward into the season.â€ť
The Blue Devils open their season Monday on the road against the University of Rhode Island and begin conference play at the end of September. With a young team that has no players designated as seniors and a head coach with seven games of experience at the helm of a program, Kelly expects his team to grow and improve over the course of the year as everyone continues to get more comfortable.
â€śCollege soccer is a unique animal and youâ€™re never going to have everything figured out,â€ť Kelly said. â€śYou just have to keep an open mind about everything and you have to keep learning. Itâ€™s different from professional soccer, itâ€™s different from youth soccer and itâ€™s different from amateur soccer, so what I learned in that spring season is you have to be flexible and you have to keep an open mind and you always have to keep learning.â€ť
Amid that youth, CCSU returns a sturdy midfield anchored by junior captain Sean Gannon who recorded two goals and three assists in seven games last season and earned all-NEC second teams honors.
Surrounding Gannon is a group of redshirt-freshmen in Ivan Farias-Martinez, Zane Brown and Kacper Skonieczny who saw early success in their seven-game introduction to collegiate soccer. Farias-Martinez, a defender, received all-conference second team recognition in the spring while Brown and Skonieczny, who scored three goals last season, were named to the all-rookie team as forwards.
â€śI think we have players with good technique, players that can handle the ball,â€ť Kelly said. â€śI think we have a good level of athleticism throughout the team and I think we have a little bit of depth. We have the kind of team [where] weâ€™re going to try to play attractive, passing, attacking football. Itâ€™s important for the guys to play a good brand and itâ€™s important for us as a program to play an attractive style.â€ť
The Blue Devils were one of the NECâ€™s most efficient teams last season, finishing third in the conference in goals last season (11) despite averaging at least two fewer shots per game than every other team. While keeping that consistency is important, they will need to increase how many chances they are creating.
For Kelly, who is trying to develop a culture of success and mold the program to play to its potential, being well-rounded will be key.
â€śWe want to make sure we have a steady back four that knows how to defend,â€ť Kelly said. â€śWe want to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to pressing as a team, and we want to make sure that as a group we have an understanding of striking a balance between keeping possession and trying to penetrate and get behind teams.â€ť
As is the case with many inexperienced programs, CCSUâ€™s success this season will be predicated most of all by how well the players can come together on and off the field. With a chance to start anew after two year since the last full season, the team is in a position to grow throughout the season.
â€śWe are optimistic about the future of the program,â€ť Kelly said. â€śThe most important thing is that we have good guys with strong character and thatâ€™s going to be the foundation on which we build this program, making sure we have good guys who are buying in to what weâ€™re trying to do.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.