With opening day still almost a week away the College of Staten Island men’s soccer program already got a nice boost going into the season, as they were tabbed as the season favorites by the CUNYAC coaches in its annual preseason poll.  Still, the team has plenty to strive for in 2015, including the chase for a postseason championship that has eluded them since 1998.

Under fourth-year head coach John Tardy, the team has made marked improvements each year, ultimately leading to a 6-1-1 finish a year ago in conference play, complete with a CUNYAC Regular Season Championship and top-billing in the postseason tourney.  High hopes were dashed, however, when CSI suffered a semifinal loss to eventual-champion Baruch College in last year’s foray.  The loss continues to haunt Tardy and his staff, but provides plenty of fuel to the young unit’s fire.

“It was definitely a disappointing end to the season for us,” commented Tardy.  “To have the kind of season we had, for it to end that way certainly left a sour taste in our mouths for a long time, and it continues to show with how hard the team has worked in the off-season and these first few days of practice.  It definitely has made us all a little hungrier.”  

Set against the backdrop of a highly-competitive schedule the Dolphins finished 10-9-2 a year ago, and will face an equally-challenging road this season, with five of the first six contests on the road and against perennial regional powers such as The College of New Jersey, Drew University, Rowan University and Kings College (PA).  One advantage to this year’s team, however, is that the Dolphins have been down this road before, and bringing back a healthy majority of the unit in 2015, Tardy hopes his squad is fully prepared.

“We threw a lot of kids into the fire last year and it helped us tremendously.  In terms of knowing the type of style we want to play and what some of our opponents will try to do will help us,” he said.  “I think our guys know that at this level you can’t take breaks and they can appreciate the preparation it takes to be successful.  On the flip side we do have several new players who also plan to play prominent roles, so we will look for that returning leadership and mentorship from our returning class, and we will expect a lot from everyone.” 

Tardy will likely lean on returning stars and co-captains Ruben Diaz and Jacob Szumanski on the back line, along with returning all-star and co-captain Nermin Kurtesi in the middle and returning all-star John Gioeli between the pipes.  The supporting cast is ample and deep, complete with threatening players like Remi Rodney, Marcin KlimDardan NikaIlir PapranikuHoratio ReidNicholas BacarellaPeter HannaVasyl Fedortsi, and Aldair Ramirez.  It’s the largest returning cast the Dolphins have ever returned under Tardy, and the coach expects to see a huge curve in improvement now that the experience level is a lot higher than where it was this time last season.

“We are very excited because we feel like we potentially have two different starting teams without their being a drop off in talent,”  Tardy noted.  “We have returning all-stars, a lot of great role players and a couple of dynamic new faces and the balance has never better.  When you play so many games in such a short amount of time it is so important to stay healthy and recover, and having this type of depth helps tremendously.  We are very excited about the versatility we will have at our disposal this year, and we are still young enough that we will continue to get better.”   

The nice allotment of returners didn’t let the coaches rest.  The coach understands that the secret to future success will rely on the infusion of incoming talent, and the coach is relying on players like Brayan Evo, a creative center-midfielder with great ball vision, Philip Lefkowitz, a Staten Island Advance All-Star striker from Tottenville High School, and Emam Turek, an explosive high energy midfielder to put the Dolphins over the top in 2015, hopefully enough to hoist a bigger trophy at season’s end.

“The truth is we have four to six freshmen who are going to come in and challenge for starting roles and who I think are going to turn a lot of heads,” Tardy beamed.  “As a coaching staff it’s exciting because every training session becomes a battle for positioning on the team and everyone gets better.” 

While the team has shown improvement year to year, Tardy’s won-loss record has remained consistent, a sign of the quality of opponent the staff strives to play.  This year, the coach is straight-forward about his expectations – he wants to win, and win often.

“We try to set up a tough schedule because our goals are to make the NCAA Postseason Tournament each year and we need to see and play against those teams if we ever want to be in that discussion.  But we also want to win a lot of these games and that is the focus this season,” he said.  “Nothing is unattainable for us if we work hard, prepare, and execute.  This is our time, expectations are high and they should be.”

Records aside CSI’s true goal will be to raise the CUNYAC Championship at season’s end.  For that to happen, CSI will need to stay conditioned and focused during the season, and Tardy hopes the consistency will improve enough for the Dolphins to be title contenders by year’s end.

“We want to improve from game to game, and the truth of the matter is, as much as we want to win the championship, we still haven’t even gotten there yet,” Tardy said.  “We want to be in that game and allow ourselves the chance to continue the postseason.  The other coaches in the conference think highly of us, so the target is on us and we need to live up to those expectations.  You never know with injuries and such but we feel the pieces are in place to have a great season.”   

CSI will start its season on Wednesday, September 2, travelling to Purchase College for a game under the lights at 7pm.  After participating in the Drew University Fall Classic on Labor Day weekend, CSI has road contests against Rowan and Kings before its first home game against Farmingdale State on September 14 at 4:00pm.  Eight of CSI’s final 10 games will be against CUNYAC competition, with four of those contests at home before the CUNYAC Tournament kicks off on October 28 and finalizes at Brooklyn College on November 7.