Written by: Owen Boyle
Photo by: Temple Athletics
A wild season filled with the COVID-19 pandemic, postponements, and bad weather has finally come to an end for the Temple Men’s Soccer team.
Multiple wins against ranked opponents, numerous overtime thrillers, and a three-game winning streak to end the regular season were just some of the highlights for the Owls this year.
“It was one of the best seasons in program history,” said Pierre Cayet. “While we came up short in the semifinals, we were really able to compete in a very competitive conference.”
Off To A Slow Start
The Owls were playing during unprecedented times after having their fall season postponed and pushed back to the spring.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Cayet. “We were unable to all be in the locker room at the same time and we were getting tested a lot.”
While many restrictions were in place, the Owls adapted well.
The cherry and white opened up their season on the road in South Florida. The Owls beat USF 3-2 behind a Jalen Campbell brace and an Amir Cohen goal.
The Owls then came back to North Broad for an extended homestand. The home opener was a tough battle for the Owls as they were shutout by No. 14 USF.
The team was set to travel to Memphis the following weekend, but that match was postponed due to weather. Instead the Tigers traveled to Philadelphia on Feb. 23rd to play a Tuesday matinee AAC match.
Temple dominated the game after falling behind early on. Mike Eijgendaal found a second-half equalizer for his first NCAA goal.
While the Owls controlled the majority of the game, Memphis ended up scoring an overtime winning goal with two minutes left in the final period.
The cherry and white were supposed to play Drexel in a non-conference game, but that match up was cancelled and never rescheduled.
The Owls played USF at home to end the month of February. Amir Cohen found the back of the net early on into the first half to give Temple the lead. The Bulls made a valiant comeback and entered halftime with a 2-1 advantage.
Temple coach Brian Rowland made the decision to pull goalkeeper Niko Hartmann at halftime in favor of redshirt freshman Eoin Gawronski. Hartmann had conceded two fairly easy goals that led to the coaching staff making a switch in goal.
“I don’t think one person is to blame for the results going the way they did at the beginning of the year,” said coach Brian Rowland. “We had to make some changes and looking at the results from that point forward it definitely helped.”
No team scored in the second half and the Owls had now lost three straight, all coming at the Temple Sports Complex.
The Owls came into the season and their long home stretch with high hopes. They finished the first half of the season with a 1-3 record.
“We didn’t realize how challenging of a year it would be,” said Rowland. “It’s understandable that we were a little slow out of the gate.”
After a run of three straight defeats, the Owls were set to end their four-game homestand against No. 2 SMU. The last time Temple lost four consecutive games at home was in 2006.
Coming into the match, the Mustangs had scored 14 goals and conceded zero in their first three games of the campaign.
The Owls would put together their best performance of the season with a 2-0 win over SMU. Mike Eijgendaal started the scoring while Pierre Cayet slotted home a penalty kick to seal the three points.
Both teams had players see red cards, as SMU had two players sent off and Brandon Johnson was ejected for Temple.
This was the program’s first win over a top-five opponent in their history.
The team would look to continue their momentum when they traveled to Oklahoma to face off against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Within the first 15 minutes of the match the Owls had already lost two key defenders to injury. Both Santiago Majewski and Mickael Borger were forced to exit early. The defense was already without senior defender Brandon Johnson who was suspended.
Despite the injuries and missing players, the cherry and white battled for 110 minutes to grab a valuable point on the road.
The Owls would stumble when they traveled to Central Florida to take on the Golden Knights of UCF. Temple fell 4-0 to the eventual AAC regular season and tournament champions.
This was the fourth consecutive loss against UCF for the Owls. They have been outscored 12-0 over that stretch.
Temple would get right back on track as they traveled home to take on No. 23 ranked Tulsa. The Owls dominated the Golden Hurricane, collecting a 4-1 win on senior night.
Sean Karani scored his first two goals of the season and freshman Nigel Griffith added his first collegiate goal.
With just two games left, the Owls sat two points outside of a playoff spot. The top four teams qualified for the AAC Tournament, leaving the two others on the outside looking in.
The Owls continued their winning ways as they beat Memphis 3-2 in the penultimate game of the season. The game went back and forth with Temple holding a lead for the majority of the contest. A late penalty kick goal from Memphis sent the game to overtime.
Amir Cohen provided the heroics as he scored the overtime winner to elevate the Owls into a playoff spot.
Everything was on the line in the final game of the season. Before the Owls could touch the field, they clinched a tournament berth. The night before, Tulsa beat USF to eliminate the Bulls from playoff contention.
Temple traveled to Dallas to square off with SMU and look for the series sweep. The Mustangs sat in third while the Owls were in fourth. If Temple won they would jump SMU into third, but if Temple lost they would stay put.
The Owls would find a crucial goal in the final five minutes of the game. Amir Cohen rifled home a penalty kick to give Temple the lead. The advantage wouldn’t last long as SMU scored an equalizer just two minutes later.
Temple head coach Brian Rowland was ejected after arguing a potential foul call on the goal’s build up play.
The cherry and white would enter their fourth overtime game of the season. Just two minutes into the first overtime period, Mike Eijgendaal found the roof of the net to give Temple a huge win.
The Owls would finish the regular season with a 5-4-2 record. The team started 1-3, but bounced back to go 4-1-1 over their final six.
“Obviously we got off to a bad start,” said Eoin Gawronski. “We got it together at the end and were able to turn our season around.”
Heartbreaking End To The Season
Temple entered the AAC tournament with a winning conference record for the first time since 2017. This was the fourth consecutive season that the program has qualified for the conference tournament.
The Owls were set to battle with Tulsa in Central Florida. The UCF Golden Knights had the privilege of hosting the semifinals and finals as a result of their first place finish.
The cherry and white came into the match with a win and a tie against the Golden Hurricane this season.
After a scoreless first half with little to no chances created, Tulsa would eventually find the opening goal. Lucky for the Owls, their first shot on target found the back of the net when Jalen Campbell scored in the 74th minute.
For the second time this season these two sides would square off in overtime. Both teams had their chances, but nobody was able to find the winning goal.
While the match result ended up being a tie, they needed penalty kicks to decide who would advance to the championship game.
Tulsa would be the team to advance after beating the Owls 3-1 on PK’s. Temple missed their first three spot kicks which put them in a deep hole.
“It was really disappointing,” said Gawronski. “We worked hard all season long just to go down on penalties.”
While the result didn’t go in favor of the Owls, they still held out hope that they would make the NCAA Soccer Cup Tournament.
With the American historically being a 3-bid conference, Temple’s success over SMU put them in line to potentially receive that third bid.
Unfortunately for the Owls and the rest of the conference, only one AAC team made the Soccer Cup.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win a championship and we didn’t do that,” said Mike Eijgendaal. “In my eyes we didn’t reach our goal for the season and I’m still disappointed we didn’t make the final.”
The Owls finished the season 5-4-2 with a heartbreaking end to boot.
“It was a challenging year,” said Rowland. “Ultimately, it was a very successful season and we are proud of what we are doing.”
Stats, Stats, And More Stats
Jalen Campbell, Amir Cohen, and Mike Eijgendaal were all tied for the team lead in goals (4) and the team lead in points (10). These three were also fourth in the AAC in goals and sixth in the AAC in points.
Eijgendaal led the team in shots (19) and shots on target (11). The Dutchman also had two game-winning goals.
“For me personally, it was a very good season,” said Eijgendaal. “I managed to get a starting spot early and was able to compete and score goals for the team.”
Mickael Borger and Nigel Griffith led the team in assists (3). This was good enough for third in the AAC.
Pierre Cayet was the team leader in minutes (1,060) with Paul Frendach close behind (1,004).
Eoin Gawronski led the team with 29 saves in his eight games played.
The redshirt freshman had a record of 4-1-2 and also recorded two shutouts this season.
“I was given the opportunity to shine and I ultimately proved myself,” said Gawronski.
Gawronski was third in the AAC in Goals Against Average (1.12), second in Save Percentage (77.5%), and fourth in Saves Per Game (3.88).
The team scored a total of 17 goals on 101 shots while their opponents scored 16 on 131 shots. 17 goals was third most in conference play.
The Owls were second in assists on the season with a total of 15.
An unfortunate stat for Temple was that they led the conference in offsides (30). They were flagged seven more times than anyone else in the conference.
The Owls racked up their fair share of awards during the season and they did the same at the end of the season.
The most notable was Pierre Cayet being unanimously named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. Cayet was named preseason Defensive Player of the Year prior to the start of the season.
Cayet was also named to First Team All-Conference and Team of the Tournament.
“I had one of my best seasons at Temple,” said Cayet. “I was able to grow a lot and lead this team much better than I previously had.”
Sean Karani was the other Owl that landed his name on the First Team All-Conference. Both Cayet and Karani were named to the Preseason First Team All-Conference.
Three Owls found their way into the Second Team All-Conference this season. Eoin Gawronski, Jalen Campbell, and Mike Eijgendaal were all honored for their strong spring campaigns.
“It’s amazing,” said Eijgendaal. “I’m putting my name out there in the conference and people are starting to know who I am.”
Gawronski and Nigel Griffith were named to the AAC All-Rookie team.
“It’s an honor,” said Gawronski. “The hard work definitely pays off with the rewards at the end of the season.”
Captain Pierre Cayet led the team with four weekly honors and three postseason honors.
Looking At The Fall
As of now, the Owls are set to have six seniors depart the team. There is a chance that two players will make a return, but nothing has been finalized.
The entire cherry and white starting defense has graduated. Esteban Suarez, Pierre Cayet, Mickael Borger, and Brandon Johnson were all integral parts to the starting 11 and the culture of the soccer program.
“I’m really excited for the program,” said Cayet. “I feel like I left the program in a better place than when I first started, I hope the younger guys can keep building on our momentum.”
Elias Hellgren-Villegas and Tyler Gainer have also graduated and will not be with the team next season. Helgren-Villegas made a position change this season when he switched from striker to center back. Gainer, a senior from Indiana, did not see any playing time
All six of the graduating players were defenders.
“We have planned for this,” said Rowland. “We have built depth and recruited at that position knowing that we were going to lose some big players.”
While a number of defensive players will be gone next season, there were some young bright spots that could fill the void.
Santiago Majewski was a defensive role player for the Owls. The soon to be senior featured in seven games, starting three. Listed as a midfielder, Majewski played the majority of his time as a utility defender. The native of San Diego dealt with a number of injuries throughout the season which prohibited him from playing in the latter stage of the year.
Freshman Jimi Leder also stepped in on defense when the Owls needed him. Leder played 291 minutes across five games.
Freshman defender Cesar Ripa did not feature for the Owls this season, but has a bright future ahead. The graduate of Montverde Academy recently signed a contract with Philadelphia Lone Star FC in USL League Two. Ripa will train and play with the team over the summer.
The cherry and white will also return their star studded attack next season. Sean Karani, Mike Eijgendaal, and Jalen Campbell found great chemistry together in Temple’s late season surge.
The attacking trio combined for 10 of the Owls 17 goals and 26 of the team’s 52 total points.
Nigel Griffith and Amir Cohen were also crucial pieces to Temple’s attack. The pair combined for six goals and 17 points.
“We score goals as a team,” said Rowland. “It’s nice to know that the attackers have built chemistry and that we are going to have some consistent performers for the next few years.”
The midfield fluctuated throughout the season. The Owls midfield anchor Andres Charles played in just the first two games of the season and missed the rest of the spring campaign due to an injury.
Paul Frendach was the rock in the center of the park for the Owls. The redshirt junior played in all 11 games and was second on the team in minutes played.
Fabian Grant and Lior Nesher rotated in and out of the starting lineup. Grant won a starting role in the middle of the season and played in all 11 games. Nesher featured in seven games while starting three of them.
Both goalies that the team used last season will return to North Broad. Eoin Gawronski came into the season as Niko Hartmann’s backup, but won the starting role midway through the year.
“Losing the seniors will hurt, but we still have a really strong and confident group for next year,” said Gawronski.
While the Owls are losing their entire backline, they are returning many key players that will give them a chance to continue to compete at a high level in the AAC.