Bouncing back from a one-win season a year ago won’t be easy, but a promising recruiting class that includes a pair of MLS academy grads and a core of experienced seniors hope to turn things around for Drexel this season.
Head coach Doug Hess has eight new faces on the squad, including Philadelphia Union Academy grad Patrick Murphy and Seattle Sounders Academy grad Neil Boyal.
“I think they’re making an impact right away,” Hess said of his newcomers, led by Murphy, Boyal and Nigerian forward Laolu Daranijo.
The trio of freshmen have already been involved in three of the team’s four goals in preseason, which is more than half the seven goals the team scored in a dismal 1-14-2 season last year. The Dragons came from behind to beat Villanova 2-1 in their first preseason exhibition contest and settled for a 2-2 draw with Binghamton on a goal with 10 seconds left after trailing 1-0 in the first half.
“It's good to score four goals,” Hess said. “But not great to concede three so it's still one of those things where defending has to matter to our group. We've been preaching that and living on that a bit the last couple weeks.”
Murphy, of Lansdale, Pa., assisted on the first of Drexel’s two goals against Binghamton. A member of the Union Academy since joining the U14 team in its first season in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy back in 2013-14, the North Penn High School grad played mostly in a holding midfield role for the Union but has embraced a more attacking role early in his college career.
“I'm a Philly guy and it was one of those things where I saw that I could play right away and represent the city,” Murphy said of his decision to stay close to home. “I’m also very close to my family and knew they would always be able to come watch games.”
Boyal, who scored a goal off a free kick against Binghamton, did the opposite of Murphy by going from Washington state just about as far away from home you can go to college in the U.S. The central midfielder spent time in the Seattle Sounders Academy and with the club’s USL team.
“He’s a lovely footballer with a lot of composure,” Hess said.
A third MLS academy alum, senior midfielder Dakota Peterson, is part of a solid core of experienced seniors that includes the versatile Swede Erik Alexandersson, Spanish attacker Xavier Hernandez, Horsham native Connor Ryan and California attacker Tristan Thompson, who had the second goal against Binghamton.
Lititz native Armin Efendic and Duranijo, who starred at Peddie School in central New Jersey, have the other preseason goals.
Peterson, who spent time in the Colorado Rapids Academy, said the influx of new talent - he thinks the incoming class has a chance to be the best yet during his tenure - is a welcome boost for a team searching for answers after three straight losing seasons.
“As everyone knows, we've had a couple tough falls,” Peterson said. “It's all about turning that around. For me it's really just how we can get on the right track again.”
The schedule won’t make it easy.
Drexel opens the regular season hosting Big East team St. John’s on Friday night at 7 p.m. and has Bowling Green and conference favorites William & Mary at home before traveling to Seattle to play the University of Washington and Seattle.
“It's a new season and a new year with new opportunities,” Murphy said. “I think the whole team is excited to get going again.”
Click here to see a photo gallery from Drexel’s game against Binghamton.