The College of Staten Island men’s soccer team may have finished in fourth place in the City University of New York Athletic Conference standings a year ago, but the disappointment of a subpar record and an early exit from championship contention has left a lot still on the table for the young Dolphins, and the team is poised to raise the bar considerably in 2011.  With new skipper Jose-Luis Rebay manning the controls, CSI feels the pieces are in place for a transformation.

Despite having only graduated a single player from last year’s roster, the CSI lineup won’t necessarily look the same in 2011, as Rebay has accentuated the tone in early-season practice, with roster spots wide open and competition fierce for the taking.  As many as 30 hopefuls have worked the sidelines looking for a jersey, and Rebay has made no qualms about making the competition tough in practice.  It could make for a new, vibrant look come September 1, when the team opens against NYU-Polytechnic at 5pm at the CSI Soccer Complex.

“We are going to go right up until our first game with roster spots open,” Rebay said.  “Right now we have fifteen players on our roster, and we will be selective as to who makes our final team.  There’s still a lot we need to see in the coming days.”

One thing is for certain.  The Dolphins do return a nucleus that created a nice bedrock a season ago en route to a  4-4-1 CUNYAC record and an opening round home game against Lehman College in last year’s CUNYAC Quarterfinals.  The hub of the unit will center around senior captain Ahmed El-Ghareib, who became the first CSI goalkeeper to man every minute of every contest in over a decade, posting three shutouts and a .793 save percentage, not bad for a transformed defensive back.

Together with seniors Dogan Altunsoy and Kenneth Zaw on the back line, and second year senior Giovanni Cortese back from a shortened 2010 campaign, the Dolphins feel they have good quality moving forward.  In fact, the Dolphins return five out of the top seven scorers from a year ago, as joining the fray will also be junior Lirim Begai, who led the team in goals during his freshman campaign in 2009, and sophomore winger Dong Luu, a CUNYAC Rookie of the Year candidate last year who scattered a trio of goals and a team-high four assists last year to go with 31 shots.  Mubaric Ibrahim (D/F, So.), Orsi Bermudez-Reyes (MF, Jr.), and Paully Awad (D, Jr.) are also returning for the Dolphins, making the transition a smooth one from 2010.

Of course, the next question will be whether or not the Dolphins have added enough firepower to improve on an offense that was outscored 46-15 in 17 games a year ago, and out-shot, 325-204.  According to their coach, the Dolphins will need to become finishers if the team wants to turn things around, and so far in practice, the results are improving.

Much of that will be due to the dynamic play up front of Alfonso Castaneda, who joins fellow Susan Wagner product Sean Andrada to give the Dolphins some pop up front.  Midfielder Aziz Kabulniyazov has already entrenched his role in the midfield and should provide a huge immediate boost.

From there, the Dolphins will look to boost their roster with increased depth.  The team, which battled through roster deficiencies last year due to size and injury, should have a full complement at their disposal in 2011.

As usual, the Dolphins will be tested, with a rigorous out-of-conference schedule accompanying their conference schedule complete with developing programs.  CSI should be ready though.  The Dolphins took wins last year over Hunter College and Lehman, the CUNYAC’s two championship squads a year ago, and another against York College, who took the championship in 2009.  With strong wins, its no wonder why optimism is high at CSI.  Getting the consistency each game will be the focus in 2011.

“This was a young team last year and they proved that when they played together and played well, they can be a very difficult opponent.  This year we are working on our fitness and getting ourselves prepared each game to win.  We are excited to get started,” said Rebay.

CSI will open against NYU-Poly on Thursday, and won’t see their first road contest until Saturday, September 10, when they open up the CUNYAC part of their schedule against perennial favorites York College.  The Dolphins will close out September by playing five games in 10 days, and will then have another five-game swing from October 5-15, which sees four games against conference opponents.

CSI will be the official site of the CUNYAC Tournament Semifinal round on October 29.  The season comes to a close a week later on November 5, with the Championship Final scheduled for a 6pm start at Randall’s Island.