By Kurtis Burke and Kenny Kelly
Fitchburg State University’s men’s soccer team may not have been viewed as serious competition in the past, but now they are a force to be reckoned with. The 2012 fall season turned some heads as the Falcons made their first playoff appearance in a decade. They made it to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament for the first time under Coach Werner Thissen.
Now in his third season as head coach, Thissen has molded a team identity that is proving tough to beat. “He took on a losing team and certainly made it clear that things are going to change,” stated sophmore defender Calvin La Rose.
Last season, the Falcons defied the odds by making it to the playoffs, which La Rose explained was an unexpected achievement. “We were projected to place dead last in the MASCAC but we ended up beating the No. 1-seeded Salem State squad to make the playoffs. It is a huge step from last year,” he said. For next season, the Falcons are ready to expand on their past success and have hopes of being contenders in the playoffs.
In previous years, the Falcons have arrived at the university two weeks before the start of fall-semester classes, allowing for try-outs, pre-season practice, and pre-season tournaments.
This coming season, though, Coach Thissen has something different in mind. The Falcons will be heading to Lake George, N.Y. for their pre-season camp. “It started with the idea of ‘going somewhere’ every four years as part of my program philosophy,” stated Thissen. “I also wanted to create a recruiting hook, drawing even more interest to some of the top recruits for our program.”
The team will be staying at Golden Goal Park, a 200-acre complex that consists of eight athletic fields. Lake George will increase the team’s training productivity and make it easier for the players to hone their skills. At Fitchburg State, the group is forced to share the athletic complex with the women’s soccer team, the football team and the field-hockey team. This causes conflicts when scheduling teams for full field accessibility. Thissen says, “Lake George with its great soccer facility will provide us with the ideal setting to fine-tune our tactical style of play without any distractions or scheduling issues.” In all, Thissan hopes that the trip “will bond and motivate the team even further as we will spend a lot of time together, both on and off the field.”
Players seem confident for the 2013 season. “The team is definitely moving in the right direction,” said La Rose. “We are only losing a few seniors for next season while other teams are losing many more of their key players. That will definitely benefit us because we have a strong young group of players who know how to play with each other.” Sophomore goalkeeper Aidan Hanratty also noted that the team dynamic was improving: “We’re starting to balance out the team. We’re bringing in some quality goal scorers and we’re already pretty sound with defense, so I think we’re on the right track for next year and the years to come.”
Statistics show that the young Falcons enhanced their play dramatically from the 2011 season to the 2012 season. For example, in 2011 Fitchburg conceded a total of 47 goals to other teams, but in 2012 they reduced that amount to just 32, which goalkeeper Hanratty believed led to more wins. The junior captain striker, Carmen Bordonaro, noted the difference between the team’s mindset in the past years versus their present attitude; “We actually go into games knowing that there’s a very good chance that we’re going to win. We’re not just playing to lose.”
The Falcons are positive they can keep the team moving in a right direction and are ready to be seen as one of the top teams in the MASCAC in the very near future. The team will begin their training the week before the fall semester starts. Shortly after returning, they head to the first tournament of the season, at Lasell College in Newton on Aug. 31.