PASADENA (Sept. 1, 2019) – The Caltech men's soccer team is looking to build upon the success of 2018, which featured the team getting over the hump with its first SCIAC win since 2011 a while putting together its best offensive season under Head Coach Phil Murray.
The Beavers finished the previous season in exciting fashion with a golden goal victory over Whittier College in the home finale on Senior Day and provided their fans a season's worth of back-and-forth games with exciting finishes. Having already had a taste of success, this year's team is looking to stick to the process that has produced steady growth in recent years and has had little trouble finding ways to stay motivated.
"We came close a few times in SCIAC games and it can be tough to keep going when you've come so close so many times, but to finally get it done reinforces all the work we put in to make it happen," Murray said. "As great as that moment felt for the guys, they're already on to the next obstacle. Going forward, we need to take that moment and how it felt and try to translate it into how we train during the preseason, offseason, in the spring and how we get back to recreating that feeling."
The men's soccer team is returning some of the top offensive weapons the program has ever known. Senior Kevin Yu (Park Ridge, N.J. / Park Ridge) earned Second Team All-SCIAC recognition for the second time in as many years and finished third in the SCIAC in points (18) and goals (7) despite playing just over half the available minutes in the season due to injury. Classmate Theo Yang (Columbia, Md. / Long Reach) assisted on the game-winning goal over Whittier and will look to remain involved in the offense as one of the team's most important midfielders with or without the ball. Along with classmate Max Shen-Molesky (Lexington, Mass. / Lexington), the senior trio will be called upon to lead as co-captains for a third consecutive season.
"Kevin, Theo and Max were a part of my first recruiting class here, so I can't believe it's now four years later and they're getting ready to play their final season," Murray said. "Their experience as captains creates a built-in leadership piece but this team is filled with strong personalities and strong leaders and it will be good to see how they're able to stamp their vision of Caltech soccer on the younger players."
The addition of sophomore Samir Johnson (Portland, Ore. / Jesuit) also proved to be a difference maker in 2018. Johnson won SCIAC Newcomer of the Year in 2018 thanks to three goals in 10 games and his aggressive presence helped the Beavers' offense improve from six total goals to 21 between 2017 and 2018. This year, Caltech will be looking to get more offense from Johnson, in addition to junior midfielder Chad Thut (Dover, N.H. / Berwick Acad.), junior forward Rohan Mirchandani (Pleasanton, Calif. / Foothill), sophomore midfielder Velissarios Christodolou (Athens, Greece / Athens College), and junior midfielder Gianfranco de Castro (Weston, Fla. / Cypress Bay). Thut scored the golden goal against Whittier, while Mirchandani led the team with two game-winners of his own in 2018 and Christodolou tied for third on the team with four points in 12 games. de Castro has also found ways to contribute, whether in the starting 11 or off the bench, and has chipped in some of the team's most highlight-worthy goals since coming to campus. Other key returners in the midfield will include senior Arjun Zutshi (Aurora, Ill. / Metea Valley), junior Jacob Snyder (Edina, Minn. / Edina) and sophomore Mohamed Soufi (San Jose, Calif. / Lynbrook).
Defensively, the Beavers also took a leap forward (21 fewer allowed goals in 2018) and should continue to rely heavily on their physical and disciplined back line in 2019. Junior Andrew Larson (Portland, Ore. / Jesuit) and sophomore Daniel Israel (San Jose, Calif. / Lynbrook) will be key contributors at center back while speedy outside back JD Walker (Grand Blanc, Mich. / Grand Blanc) will continue to stretch the field and create runs for the athletic Beavers.
This year's freshman class is unique, absent the pressure of having to be thrown into the starting lineup out of pure necessity like previous classes. Each of the talented incoming players will instead have the chance to contribute when ready and as the situation arises.
Josh Finnerty (Walled Lake, Mich. / Detroit Catholic Central) comes from a soccer family and as a central defender embraces the gritty characteristics that come with being a stingy center back. Sam Klauer (Knoxville, Tenn. / Christian Academy) follows a long line of solid two-way players to join the program in recent years and scored a series of clutch goals playing for the Christian Academy of Knoxville. Joon Park (Incheon, South Korea / Chadwick International School) brings with him all of the necessary physical and mental tools it takes to be a sound defender while Florida native Travis Xiang (Sanford, Fla. / Seminole) will give the Beavers a natural right back for the first time since Murray took over as coach.
"The starting players from last year are all returning for the most part," Murray said. "The new guys have come in and hit the ground running but are also seeing that they have to work to be better and crack the starting 11. All four are good players with a level of athleticism, technical skills and an aptitude for our system but it will also be exciting to see how their unique strengths are able to benefit the squad."
The Beavers' goalkeeper situation is in good hands with junior Joe Como (Glen Cove, N.Y. / Friends Acad.) returning to lead the way between the posts. The durable third-year player and former SCIAC Newcomer of the Year led the conference in saves as a sophomore and featured in net for all four of the team's wins last season. He also picked up two clean sheets and should continue to be a rock as the team's last line of defense. Senior Richard Shim (New York, N.Y. / Phillips Acad.) will serve as the backup.
This year's team will be looking to follow in the footsteps of past teams by showing improvement in non-outcome oriented areas. Last year, the Beavers tipped the goal differential more toward their favor and produced an additional three wins as a result. They also moved the ball as well as ever with 14 total assists. If Caltech can continue to improve in these areas, the rest of the conference might wish they had taken notice sooner.
"We're a small group but we're confident in our quality from top to bottom," Murray said. "We have our internal team goals but as long as everyone is fit and healthy, this is a group capable of making huge strides this year."
The men's soccer team opens the season on Monday, Sept. 2 at home against San Diego Christian College, 2 p.m. start time.