A season to forget: 2021 Temple Men’s Soccer season recap

Written by: Owen Boyle

Photo by: Temple Athletics

It was a year to forget for the Temple Men’s Soccer Team (2-12-2, 0-10-0) in what can be viewed as one of, if not, their worst season in program history. 

“The performances were better than the results,” Brian Rowland said. 

The Owls were coming off a very successful Spring 2020-2021 after the NCAA moved the season from the fall due to Covid-19.

Brian Rowland entered his fourth season at the helm for the cherry and white, looking to improve on his first three years.

Looking back

The Owls fell short on penalty kicks in the 2020-2021 AAC playoff semifinals, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

While the team started slow, including losing their first three at home, they rallied for a third place finish. 

The cherry and white collected their highest-ranked victory in program history when they took down SMU, 2-0 at home.

Goalkeeper Eoin Gawronski got his opportunity in net halfway through the season and he didn’t disappoint. Gawronski posted a 4-1-1 record during the regular season and was selected for Second Team All-Conference.

Jalen Campbell, Amir Cohen, and Mike Eijgendaal led the team in goals (4) and points (10) for a high-powered offense. 

The team was anchored by a strong backline of Pierre Cayet, Brandon Johnson, Esteban Suarez, and Mickael Borger. The four mainstays were a crucial part in the success of the season.

All in all, the 2020-2021 season gave the Temple Soccer program a solid foundation to build on for the future.

Strong Start

As the world started getting back to normalcy, the team was preparing for a normal fall season.

With 14 new additions and a strong returning core, the outlook was positive for the cherry and white.

The Owls competed in three scrimmages in mid-August, drawing with college soccer powerhouse Maryland, but losing to Delaware and St. John’s.

In his first full season as the starting goalie, Eoin Gawronski made his presence known. The Limerick, PA native saved his first collegiate penalty kick against St. John’s. 

He wasn’t done there. In the regular season opener against the tenth ranked Pirates of Seton Hall, Gawronski saved a penalty in overtime to salvage a 0-0 draw for the Owls.

Yet again, he wasn’t done there. Gawronski made another penalty save in overtime to preserve a 0-0 draw for the Owls, this time against Rutgers.

Gawronski made three straight penalty kick saves in three consecutive games. Due to his performance in the first two regular-season matches, Gawronski was awarded the College Soccer News Men’s National Player of the Week.

The Owls collected their first win of the season in their 2021 home opener. Goals from Nigel Griffith, Marques Antoine, and Mike Eijgendaal propelled Temple to a 3-1 victory over Manhattan. 

A meeting with Philly Soccer Six rival Villanova was the Owls’ biggest test at home to start the season.

Villanova came out on top after coming from behind and winning on an overtime penalty kick. The 2-1 defeat marked the Owls first loss of the campaign.

To add insult to injury, star goalkeeper Eoin Gawronski went down for the year with a foot injury. Gawronski had a successful surgery, but was sidelined for 8-12 weeks with a Jones fracture.

The Dominoes Fall

A matchup with the number one ranked team in the nation, Georgetown, was cancelled due to Covid protocols within the Temple program.

An unvaccinated player was considered a close contact with someone who contracted the virus, prompting the program to shut down for a short period of time.

AAC play started in mid-September when the Owls hosted SMU. The success against the Mustangs from last year didn’t carry over. The Owls were thumped 4-1.

Liam Cummings took over in goal for the injured Gawronski. The sophomore keeper was integrated back into the team after being suspended by the program.

The 4-1 loss to SMU was followed up by a 4-1 loss at UCF. The Owls would go on to lose their next two conference games, at home against Memphis and on the road against SMU.

“Our defensive performances weren’t good enough,” Mickael Borger said. “We made too many mistakes with and without the ball.’

Temple would get a break from conference play when they hosted Princeton. After riding a five-game losing streak, the Owls would finally pick up a win.

Chaim Roserie and Jalen Campbell both scored and Liam Cummings notched his first shutout in Temple’s 2-0 victory.

The win was short lived. The Owls were held scoreless in a 3-0 home loss to USF, just three days after their win over the Tigers.

The cherry and white would end up putting up a good fight against the conference’s best team, Tulsa. The Owls ultimately fell 2-1.

Another non-conference game was mixed into the schedule. The Owls travelled across town to face Penn, another Philly Soccer Six rival.

While Temple scored first and dominated possession, it wasn’t enough to hold off the Quakers in a 2-1 loss.

Temple would lose their last four games of the season after the Penn defeat. Two losses at home, one against UCF and the other against Tulsa. The other two losses occurred on the road at the hands of Memphis and USF.

“Once we went down in a game, it was tough for us to come back,” said Andres Charles. “Our mentality could have been much better throughout the season.”

The Owls ended the season on a seven-game losing streak and a program record 10-game conference losing streak. 

“The season never ends how you want it to,” Rowland said. “This season in particular was very difficult.”

The Injury Bug

It was a season filled with injuries for the Temple Owls.

“The leaders and experienced players that have been through it all seemed to be on the sideline for most of the season,” Rowland said. “Injuries happen in this sport, so we’re certainly not going to hang our hat on that.”

The first major injury occurred during the summer when forward Sean Karani tore his ACL. Karani was unanimously selected to the AAC Preseason All-Conference Team, but he never played a game this season. 

Santiago Majewski was another Owl that didn’t see the field this year due to a knee injury. The California native became a big part of the team’s defense and midfield last Spring.

The biggest injury of them all was Eoin Gawronski’s season-ending foot injury against Villanova. The goalkeeper was making a name for himself when his year came to an abrupt end.

“Eoin was emerging as one of the top goalkeepers in the country,” Rowland said. “Psychologically, it was a difficult hurdle to overcome.”

Versatile midfielder and defender Kemali Green also suffered a serious, season-ending injury against SMU which caused him to miss the final 11 games.

Midfielder Andres Charles picked up numerous knocks throughout the season after missing the majority of last year with a foot injury. Charles was absent for a six-game stretch in the second half of the season, dealing with a leg injury.

“It’s tough sitting on the sidelines and watching the team not get the results that we needed,” Charles said.

Backup goalie Liam Cummings missed the final six games of the season with an undisclosed injury that he picked up in training. This forced walk-on keeper Goodwill Agbaadem into a starting role.

“He [Agbaadem] got his chance and performed very well,” Rowland said. “He bought in and the guys really enjoyed having him around.”

It seemed like the Owls had a different starting goalie every month. Having three different starters can cause problems for team chemistry and confidence.

“Playing with three goalies was tough because they give you confidence and help control the backline,” Borger said. “It takes time to build relationships with each goalie, it wasn’t easy.”

The normal bumps and bruises happened along the way for the Owls. The injuries proved costly for the Owls as they lost many of their top players and could never find a consistent starting lineup.

Stats, Stats, And More Stats

The Owls only managed 14 goals this season, averaging 0.88 goals per game. Meanwhile, their opponents scored 32 goals which equated to a two goals per game average.

“We should have scored more,” Mike Eijgendaal said. “We had a lot of issues this season, from injuries to formation changes which made it harder to score goals and create chances.”

Temple had just two players with multiple goals during the season. Nigel Griffith was the Owls’ leading scorer with three goals and 7 points. Mike Eijgendaal was right behind him with two goals and 6 points.

The next closest scorer was Jalen Campbell with one goal and 3 points. Andres Charles, Amir Cohen, Kyle Hellmann, Spencer Patton, and Chaim Roserie all had 3 points as well.

The Owls offense didn’t do their job putting the ball in the back of the net this year. They also didn’t create enough chances to score goals.

The cherry and white had 150 shots with only 54 of those hitting the target. Temple’s opponents racked up 216 shots this season with 105 of them being on frame.They also averaged four more shots per game than the Owls.

One of the biggest issues for this year’s team was conceding penalty kicks. The Owls gave away seven penalties this season, conceding four of them. 

“Our discipline was challenged and at times we fell short,” Rowland said.

Eoin Gawronski saved two penalties in the first two games of the season while Goodwill Agbaadem saved a spot kick on the road against Memphis. The Owls did not attempt any penalty kicks this season.

The Owls failed to win a conference game and record a conference point for the first time in the program’s 95 year existence. 

In 1957, Temple held a record of 2-7-1 with no conference schedule. In 2006, The Owls went 2-14-1. This is tied for the most losses in a season for the program with the 2014 season, but the Owls won one conference game in both of those seasons. 

2021 could be considered the worst season in program history because, along with the 2-12-2 record, the Owls went winless and drawless in conference play.

“The talent was there, 100 percent,” Borger said. “I think our biggest problem was mental, we lacked focus and concentration most of the time.”

Season Accolades 

The Owls collected numerous preseason honors prior to the 2021 Fall campaign. 

Eoin Gawronski was awarded the AAC Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year and was also selected for the AAC Preseason All-Conference Team.

Along with Gawronski, Sean Karani and Jalen Campbell were unanimous selections to the AAC Preseason All-Conference Team.

At the end of the season, the Owls only took home one postseason honor. Freshman defender Luka Kozomara earned a spot on the AAC Postseason All-Rookie Team.

“Luka was a bright spot for this group,” Rowland said. “We are happy with where he is and the player that we get to work with.”

Looking Ahead

The Owls will be quick to turn their attention to next season.

Six seniors will likely not return for 2022. While there is an option to come back with an extra year of eligibility or as a graduate student, nothing has been confirmed.

“We will miss some great pieces that have been here for the last few years,” Rowland said. “We know that we’ll get next season right and do it for them [the seniors] as well.”

Mickael Borger was honored as a senior last year, but returned as a graduate player. He will depart after three seasons with the Owls.

Goodwill Agbaadem is the only player leaving that is listed as a senior on the roster.

Andres Charles, Jalen Campbell, and Santiago Majewski are listed as juniors due to athletic eligibility, but are seniors in academic standing. 

The same goes for Amir Cohen. He is listed on the roster as a sophomore due to athletic eligibility, but will graduate as a senior.

While some players are leaving, the program has a young foundation to build on for the future.

“We have some really talented young players to work with,” Rowland said. “We’ve got a developmental Spring season that we can use to really get down to shaping this team for 2022.”

Eoin Gawronski will come back 100 percent healthy next season, giving the owls a constant boost in goal.

Three out of the four starters on the backline will return. Redshirt sophomore Marques Antoine, along with freshman Alex O’Leary and Luka Kozomara will look to continue their chemistry together next season.

“They’re going to be big players for this program,” Borger said. “Alex is good on the field and can be a leader for this team. Luka is a very good player with the ball, he will contribute a lot to the future of this team.”

Captain Paul Frendach will be back to anchor the midfield with young players, like Andrew Burkhardt, Tessho Kobayashi, Josh Chong, and Kemali Green.

Tyquan Stroud will also return, the freshman midfielder showed his potential when he needed to fill in for some injured players.

“Ty is a super hard worker, he’s willing to do anything for the team,” Charles said. “He is a big player that knows how to play the game well. He will definitely help the team in the future.”

Leading scorers Nigel Griffith and Mike Eijgendaal will be back on North Broad next season. They will be happy to have a healthy Sean Karani involved in the offense.

Alex Marin, Chaim Roserie, and Aly Camara will all play key roles up top for the cherry and white next year.

“We have to play more as a real team next year,” Eijgendaal said. “We dropped too far this fall, we have to build back up again.”

Coach Brian Rowland will have plenty of returning players to choose from next season, as well as new transfers and freshmen.

The Owls will look to bounce back from a horrible season with a strong Spring campaign that will lead into the 2022 Fall season.

“We’re going to fix the team mentality and the mentality in the locker room so we stick together until the end,” Eijgendaal said.

The players and coaches are excited to get back on the pitch and forget about their disappointing 2021 season.

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