Coming off back-to-back Big South Conference titles, Campbell finally gets the 2020-21 men's soccer season underway Monday.
Coming off back-to-back Big South Conference titles and NCAA College Cup appearances, Campbell finally gets the 2020-21 men's soccer season underway this week.
After more than 14 months off from facing outside competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the push from the fall to a spring soccer season, 2019 Big South Coach of the Year Dustin Fonder expects his 2020-21 Camels to be a work in progress toward the ultimate goal of winning a third straight league title and capturing a third consecutive NCAA berth.
"Having a year off, I don't think there's going to be a pretty game played in week one," said Fonder. "It's going to be sloppy and whoever makes the fewest mistakes is going to win.
Because we have an experienced back four and the best goalkeeper in the conference, we've got to ... limit mistakes and capitalize on the other team's mistakes. "
Eight starters return from the 2019 squad that finished 17-3-2 overall, earned a No. 24 national ranking, won the league double, and claimed an NCAA College Cup victory for the first time in the program's Division I history (since 1977).
"It was a culmination of a few years building on top of each other," said Fonder. "I think we were very good in 2018, too. We went on the road and played a lot of tough opponents outside the league. Once we got into the conference tournament, we didn't allow a goal."
The 2019 squad finished with a perfect 8-0-0 record in league regular season play and defeated second-seeded High Point 4-1 in the Big South final. CU then went on the road in the NCAA College Cup first round and won convincingly (3-1) at No. 15 James Madison before falling 2-0 three days later at top-ranked (and eventual national finalist) Virginia.
Although eight starters return – including senior keeper Samuel Lechuga (nine shutouts, 0.77 GAA) and preseason Big South Attacking Player of the Year Matt Lock (six goals, seven assists), Fonder must replace the 2019 league attacking (Thibaut Jacquel) and defensive (Gideon Betz) player of the year.
Jacquel led the country with 18 goals and earned All-America honors, but decided to begin his professional career after FC Dallas selected him in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft.
A two-time Academic All-American, Betz graduated after making 73 career starts and captaining the team to back-to-back titles.
"We lost three major pieces, two planned and one unexpected, so it's important that this year's group realizes that we can enjoy seeing us listed as a preseason top-20, but that's actually last year's success carried over to this year," said Fonder.
"We've got to start from scratch, zero-to-zero, and write our own story."
Once again, depth (16 different Camels started at least one match in 2019) is a strength for this season's squad.
Lechuga anchors a defense that finished 13th in the nation in goals-against average (0.75). He tied a school single-season shutouts record and ranked 10th in the country.
Three first-team all-conference defenders, including freshman of the year Moses Mensah, return along the backline. Junior Franck Momo made 20 starts at right back a year ago, while sophomore Bissafi Dotte started all 22 matches in the middle and Mensah started each of the 20 games he played on the left.
Lock, the top returning scorer in the Big South, conference all-tournament pick Jalen James and Central Methodist transfer Daniel Hernández, provide experience and skill on the wing.
"Depth could be our biggest strength," said Fonder. "We are one of a few teams in our league that could lose three starters and plug in three of the same quality."
With a preseason top-20 ranking in the College Soccer News poll and a number one slot in the Big South coaches poll, Campbell will attempt to become the first team to win three straight Big South titles since Coastal Carolina pulled the "three-peat" from 2003-05.
"This year's group will be up to it," said Fonder. "They've been working real hard in training, but a lot of them haven't been through the games.
Last year we had a very experienced team. This year, we have a lot of good players, maybe better at some positions, but some haven't played a game for Campbell yet; they've played JUCO or NAIA, but haven't played a Division I game yet."
The Camels host non-conference opponent Shaw on Monday to open the season.
A limited number of CU students and faculty/staff will be allowed at each outdoor home event. A reservation link for each game will be available on the university's website