SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Guided by a blend of upperclassmen defensemen and a mix of experience and youth in the midfield and striker ranks, the Bryant University men's soccer team saw mixed results in 2011, but ultimately gave a strong core of young players both in-game experience at the collegiate level and areas to improve on that will help them grow when they return to the pitch for their first season eligible for postseason competition in 2012.
The Bulldogs wrapped up the fall with a 2-13-1 overall record, and a 1-9 mark in Northeast Conference play. While that mark looks discouraging, and was a step back from the previous season's four-win campaign, it does not reflect just how close the squad was in a handful of matches, especially early in the year when Bryant suffered one-goal losses five of its first six defeats. And in all of those five losses, the deciding goal came in the 87th minute or later.
Head coach Seamus Purcell prepared the squad for another challenging Northeast Conference slate with six non-conference tilts. The team opened up the year on its home turf, facing in-state rival URI in the opening round of the second annual Ocean State Soccer Classic. In their first match of the year, the Bulldogs battled the Rams to a scoreless tie in a game that appeared destined for overtime, but the visitors were able to score in the 90th minute to hand Bryant a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat at home.
In the tournament's consolation game played at URI's campus, Bryant faced off against then-No. 11 Brown, a team that had made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2010, and ultimately dropped a 3-0 decision. Despite being outshot 14-7, Bryant trailed by just one after halftime and nearly had a chance to draw even in the first half, but the Bears pulled away in the second frame to clinch the victory.
Over the team's next four games, Bryant had opportunities to come away with victories in each of them, but a wound up going 1-2-1 in that stretch. First, the Bulldogs fought to a 1-1 tie against Rider on Sept. 11, with senior Nicholas Parisi (Holbrook, N.Y.) scoring his first of six goals on the season via a penalty kick in that contest. Against George Washington six days later, Bryant rallied from down 2-1 to tie the game up in the 81st minute, but the Colonials managed to find the back of the net in the 89th minute to stun the Bulldogs, 3-2.
Bryant welcomed Army in its only non-conference home match of the year on Sept. 20, and a header goal by junior Ryan Stone (Wakefield, R.I.) gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead heading into the half. Bryant maintained that one-goal cushion late into regulation, but the Black Knights netted the equalizer with just over 10 minutes to play. Then, six minutes later, Army found the net again to go up, 2-1, and held on to win by that same margin, handing the Bulldogs yet another tough defeat.
But Bryant finally broke though in its final non-conference match of the year, traveling to Manhattan College for an early Sunday morning showdown on Sept. 25. Thanks to a goal by senior Bunmi Familoni (East Greenwich, R.I.), the Bulldogs edged the Jaspers, 1-0, for their first 'W' in 2011.
That set the stage for conference play, in which Bryant was tabbed to finish in last place according to the Preseason Coaches' Poll. But the Bulldogs finished one slot higher than predicted, ending the year in 10th place.
After a tough 2-1 loss to Quinnipiac to kick off the conference schedule, Bryant found itself in another barnburner against Long Island on Oct. 2. Despite getting outshot 17-4, three of those shots on goal wound up in the net, as Parisi set a new career high with two goals in a game, and Stone added another in the 86th minute to tie the game up at 3-3. But a late goal by LIU less than a minute after Stone's marker propelled the Blackbirds to a wild 4-3 win, in which four of the combined seven goals were scored in the 81st minute or later.
Following a tough four-game home streak, the Bulldogs made the long trek out to Pennsylvania where they faced conference foes Robert Morris and Saint Francis (PA). Against the Colonials, Parisi put the visitors on top just 2:18 into regulation, and that was all the Bulldogs would need in a thrilling 1-0 victory on Oct. 21. That win marked Bryant's second one-goal victory of the year.
Bryant finished the season against Fairleigh Dickinson and Sacred Heart, both participants in the NEC Tournament. The Bulldogs fell short in both games, but kept it close throughout those contests.
Looking to next year, the Bulldogs will have to fill the void left by Parisi, who led all scorers with six goals and one assist for a team-high 14 points. Also departing will be senior tri-captain and center back Ben Lawrence (Amherst, N.H.), who was a leader on defense this season, starting all 16 games. Bryant also loses graduate student forward Cristian Balestrieri (Mar Del Plata, Argentina), senior defender Ethan Friedman (Massapequa Park, N.Y.), senior midfielder Bunmi Familoni and Frankie Hand (Lynbrook, N.Y.), and senior goalkeepers Chris Bronski (Trumbull, Conn.) and Andrew Snell (South Salem, N.Y.) all to graduation.
The Bulldogs do bring back a young pack of midfielders and strikers to compliment what should be a stronger and veteran-laden defensive corps that will be led by captain Matthew D'Amelio (Warwick, R.I.) and sophomore goalkeeper George Spanos (Garden City, N.Y.). Appearing in 15-of-16 matches, Spanos finished the year with a team-high 2.06 goals-against average and a .692 save percentage.
On the offensive side of the pitch, Stone will be the lead returning scorer (2-1—5), while freshmen Connor Norat (Wilmington, Del.) and Ryan Kalan (East Norwich, N.Y.) also recorded points in 2011. Norat finished the year with a goal and an assist, while Kalan dished out one helper. Sophomore Nicholas Alberti (Marshfield, Mass.) found the back of the net twice in back-to-back games, while junior Angelo Caputi (Guayaquil, Ecuador) garnered three points on the year (1-1—3). Classmate Anthony Zarella (Marshfield, Mass.) rounds out the group of scorers with one goal in 2011.