Last fall, the Penn State Altoona men’s soccer team exceeded expectations around the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference by finishing among the top teams in the league. The Lions went 11-8-1 overall, including a 6-2-1 mark in the AMCC that placed them third in the regular season standings.
This season, head coach Patrick "Moe" Taylor hopes to keep the momentum going. The 2017 Lions roster includes 10 returners from last year, but it also adds 15 first-year players to the mix. Taylor’s challenge will be maximizing the contributions from his returners while relying on some newcomers to play significant roles.
"We have a lot of youth on the team, but around here, you have to grow up quickly," said Taylor, who is embarking on his eighth season at the helm of the Penn State Altoona men’s soccer program. "Many of our returners are sophomores, but they’re leaders now, and they’re going to have to take over the team and pretty much get the new guys up to speed."
Two of the Lions’ top returners from last year are senior midfielder Seth Murrelle (Sayre, PA/Sayre) and junior forward Jordan Crist (Alum Bank, PA/Chestnut Ridge), who were both named as “Players to Watch” in the 2017 AMCC preseason poll. Murrelle was a second team All-AMCC selection last season after scoring seven goals and adding four assists for a total of 18 points. Crist earned third team All-Conference honors, scoring six goals and recording one assist for 13 points.
Other returners include senior forward Coltin Ebersole (Roaring Spring, PA/Northern Bedford), sophomore forward Peyton Salonick (Yardley, PA/Pennsbury), sophomore midfielders Matteo Galieti (Broomall, PA/Archbishop Carroll), Ben Jago (Allentown, PA/Parkland), Antonio Mandell (Broomall, PA/Marple Newtown), and Emerson Mendes (Luanda, Angola/Luanda), and sophomore defenders Ali Faraj (Beirut, Lebanon/International College) and Jacob Weaver (Downingtown, PA/Downingtown West). Weaver highlights that group after being voted to the second team of the All-AMCC squad last fall as a freshman.
"I think Seth Murrelle, Jordan Crist, Ben Jago, Coltin Ebersole, and Jacob Weaver, to name a few, are leaders in their own right," said Taylor. "We have other returners playing new roles, such as Matteo Galieti and Antonio Mandell in the midfield and Ali Faraj on the back line."
Taylor also points to several newcomers as having the potential to make an impact on the team in their first seasons. Sophomore goalkeeper Tanner Yaw (Palmyra, PA/Palmyra) transferred to Penn State Altoona after playing soccer last fall at Wesley College, and he projects to see plenty of time between the pipes this season along with freshman goalkeeper Joel Orlando (Reading, PA/Schuylkill Valley). Freshman midfielder Deontae Mosley (Houston, TX/Hylton) and freshman forward Evan Cardoza (Altoona, PA/Altoona) are two other young players who should see playing time on a regular basis.
"Our goalkeeper situation will include Tanner Yaw, as well as Joel Orlando, who’s making some noise at that position. Deontae Mosley is someone who will see the field, and Evan Cardoza is a local guy who I think will step in," said Taylor. "At the end of the day, we want guys to try and take ownership of the team, whether you’re a senior or you’re a freshman just walking in the door. You might not be in the starting lineup, but you have something to contribute to our cause and what we’re trying to do, so we need every player to show up and make us better every day."
As for playing style, Taylor expects to continue the same philosophy that he has always known: to have his team control the ball, make smart decisions, and produce an entertaining brand of soccer.
"Soccer is ultimately a game, and in a game, you have to have fun. If we have the ball, then the longer we have it, the more fun we have," he explained. "Our identity over the years has been playing the type of soccer that is fun to watch. We’re trying to play the game the right way and follow that blueprint. We’ve heard opponents tell us after games that they like our style, so it’s a compliment to the way we’ve played."
Penn State Altoona men’s soccer starts its 2017 season on its home field, Spring Run Stadium, with a pair of non-conference games. The Lions host Arcadia University on Friday, September 1 at 6:00 p.m., then they will take on Waynesburg University on Saturday, September 2 at 1:00 p.m. Penn State Altoona’s first AMCC game is September 23 at 1:00 p.m., when they will hit the road to take on Pitt-Bradford.
"There are certain things we can control, and if we’re controlling those things and leaving it all on the field every day, then the results will speak for themselves," said Taylor. "We aren’t a ‘championship-or-bust’ type of a team because of our basic makeup. At the end of the day, it’s an attitude and belief in each other. If we do what we’re supposed to do, there’s no limit to what we can achieve."