Written by: Owen Boyle
Photo courtesy of: Temple Athletics
Temple men’s soccer came into this school year prepared to play its regularly scheduled fall season but due to COVID postponements, the Owls are gearing up to play a spring variation of their conference schedule.
The American Athletic Conference fall soccer season was moved to the spring due to concerns over the outbreak of Covid-19. The season was postponed just a few days before the Owls were set to take the field on Labor Day weekend.
With little time before the season starts, the Owls have been training rigorously ever since the university has come back from winter break.
“Obviously Covid has impacted us a lot,” senior defender Pierre Cayet said. “We aren’t able to communicate as much with each other due to locker room restrictions. Otherwise, we are still making a lot of progress on the field and are prepared to get started.”
Luckily for the Owls, along with all other teams who had their seasons postponed, they have been given the go-ahead to compete during the spring season.
“I think we learned a lot in the fall,” coach Brian Rowland said. “I’m really thankful we went through that experience and learned the best practices to keep everyone safe while getting better.”
The Owls will look to take the experiences they had in the fall and translate it into success in the spring.
Looking at the schedule
Temple will play 11 games, 10 of them within the conference and one non-conference matchup.
The Owls will continue the tradition of the Philadelphia Soccer Six starting with hosting Drexel on February 24. The Philly Soccer Six consists of Temple, Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Drexel, La Salle, and Penn.
“It’s always important to keep rivalries going,” Rowland said. It’s a way for us to see where the team is at and it gives us a good break from our challenging conference schedule.”
Temple will play five home-and-home matches with conference opponents throughout February, March, and April.
The cherry and white will start on the road when they travel to battle USF on February 6. They open their home campaign when they host UCF on February 13 at the Temple Sports Complex.
The AAC tournament will take place on April 16-18, consisting of semifinals and the final. The winner of the American regular-season will host the weekend’s events.
Examining the opponents
The Owls are coming off a strong 2019 campaign where they finished 8-8-2 overall with a 3-2-2 conference record. Temple amassed 11 points which was good for a fifth place finish in the conference. The cherry and white beat a strong Memphis team in the opening round of last year’s tournament before losing at the hands of the regular-season champion UCF in the semifinals.
Along with opening the season at USF, the Owls will also host the Bulls on February 27. USF finished in third place last season and lost in the semifinals just like Temple. The Owls got the best of USF in their only meeting last season, beating the Bulls 3-1 at home.
“I can’t wait, I can’t wait,” forward Sean Karani said. “We’ve been waiting for this day a while, next week against USF can’t come soon enough”
After opening up their home schedule against the Golden Knights, the Owls will travel to UCF on March 20. UCF collected a total of 19 points in conference play and finished 15-3-2 overall. Along with taking down the Owls in the conference tournament, the Golden Knights shut out the Owls at TSC in late September.
Temple will head back on the road on February 20 to face Memphis. The Tigers will travel to Philadelphia on March 27 to finish the back end of the home-and-home.
The Owls defeated Memphis twice last season, once during the regular season at home and once on the road during the AAC tournament. Memphis finished just one point ahead Temple in last year’s standings, good enough for fourth place.
The cherry and white start a long homestand when they play their only non-conference game against Drexel. This game will take place on Wednesday February 24th at 2pm.
The last time these two teams squared off was in 2017, the Owls dominated in a 4-0 win at the Temple Sports Complex.
Temple will finish out a three game homestand with a matchup against the AAC tournament champions SMU on March 6. Both teams will end their respective seasons against each other on April 9. This is the third consecutive season that the Owls and Mustangs finish the season by playing each other.
Outside of winning the tournament, SMU placed second in the regular-season standings. The Mustangs defeated the Owls on their home turf in their only matchup last year by a final score of 2-1.
The final opponent that Temple will play this season is the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Owls travel to Oklahoma on March 13 while the Golden Hurricane return the favor on April 2.
Tulsa was the only team in the American to go winless, they finished the 2019 season with six losses and just one point. These two teams battled out a scoreless draw in the penultimate game of last season.
“I think our last official game was about 14 months ago,” Pierre Cayet said. “We are all really excited to play and just grateful we are able to be playing right now.”
Preseason accolades and awards
The American handed out their preseason awards and rankings for Men’s Soccer recently with the Owls taking home multiple awards.
Pierre Cayet was named the American preseason defensive player of the year. This was the first time in school history that a player wearing cherry and white took home this award.
“I was really proud,” Cayet said. “It gives me a ton of confidence, but also, I think it’s a challenge because people now have high expectations for me. I’m really looking forward to showing everyone what I’m capable of.”
Cayet was also named to the all-conference team in the AAC.
Along with the senior defender, Temple forward Sean Karani was also named to the all-conference team. Karani had three goals and three assists in 17 games as a rookie last season.
“My coaches and teammates have pushed me to be where I’m at today,” Karani said. “I’m thankful and I can give back to them by becoming even better.”
The Wichita, Kansas native is coming off a strong season where he earned all-rookie honors in both the AAC and the Philadelphia Soccer Six.
As a team, the Owls were ranked fourth in the preseason coaches poll, tied with Memphis. SMU, UCF, and USF round out the top three.
“Often those rankings are based off of last year,” Rowland said. “Our conference is really strong, I thought we were very good last year and I expect us to be competitive again.”
Players to watch
Temple is bringing back a solid core of players that were involved in the success of last season.
“We’ve been fortunate to have built and are building this core group of players for a long time,” said Rowland. “There is a lot of talent on the field and we also have some really good additions that will get their chance to compete.”
The Owls will return their entire backline, minus goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre. Esteban Suarez, Pierre Cayet, Mickael Borger, and Brandon Johnson led a defense that only allowed 22 goals, good for the second least goals allowed in the conference last season.
The biggest question of the offseason for the Owls was who is going to replace Lefebvre in net.
Temple currently has three keepers on their roster. Eoin Gawronski and Liam Cummings, both sophomores from the Philadelphia Union Academy.
The Owls also added transfer goalie Nikolas Hartman, a native of Ibiza. Hartman joined the cherry and white from Louisiana State University where he had the best goals against average in the Red River Athletic Conference.
“Eoin and Liam are guys that I have high expectations for,” Rowland said. “They are very talented and have improved a lot but they haven’t yet had the opportunity to get game action. Nico will bring some experience and add a different dimension.”
The Owls also bring back the strong midfield duo of Andres Charles and Paul Frendach. Both players featured in all games last season and logged over 1000 minutes.
The cherry and white lost their most productive player last season in the form of striker Lukas Fernandes. The former captain played professionally for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds after graduating in 2020.
Sean Karani is expected to play a bigger role in the offensive production for Temple.
“I think Sean is going to be a better version of what he was last year,” Rowland said. “He’s an exciting attacking player that can really help our team and will have a big impact.”
With the core that Temple is returning and the future looking bright, the Owls are set for another strong season on North Broad.
Temple has their sights on improving as a group and making a run at the AAC championship.
“The main goal as a team is to win the championship,” Karani said. “It was something that eluded us last season and we really want to bring it back.”
“Our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament,” Cayet added. “I think we have a great team and a great chance to do that.”
With a strong roster, big goals, and finally a season to be played, the Temple Men’s Soccer team is more than prepared to adapt to their abbreviated schedule and have another successful season.