It may seem like a little thing to people who don’t watch or care about soccer, but gridiron lines are never a welcome site for fans at a soccer game.
For three years, La Salle senior midfielder Johnny Ciarlante has played on a turf field with American football lines on it painted in 2006 for a team that was disbanded by the university a year later.
But that all changed this summer with the installation of a new SPRINTURF field at a stadium originally opened in 1936.
“It’s a true soccer field,” Ciarlante said of the pitch at McCarthy Stadium, which the team shares with women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse. “When games are getting streamed live it’s going to look like a proper soccer game, not like a high school game thrown on a football field.”
The field isn’t the only thing that has Ciarlante optimistic about the upcoming season, which opens Friday night at 7 p.m. against Loyola Maryland.
Second-year head coach Rob Irvine has had a full off-season with the squad and brought in a promising recruiting class that includes fifth-year senior Kenny Lassiter from Syracuse, Swedish defender Daniel Begovic from Young Harris and freshman Norwegian defender Jesper Lenander.
“We’re so much deeper than we have been in previous years, from the starters to everyone on the bench anyone can come in and perform,” Ciarlante, a Southampton, Pa. native said. “No one’s job is secure.”
Two key losses to graduation are in the defense with goalkeeper Mike Kirk having moved on to USL with Rio Grande Valley FC Toros and Irish defender Colman Kennedy. Twin brothers Cameron Keys and Garrett Keys, both Philadelphia Union Academy grads, will be called on to step into those positions on the field.
Cam Keys played six matches in goal last season so Irvine said he doesn’t think they’ll skip a beat with him in net.
“From the defensive side, we want to be very well organized,” Irvine said. “Our hope is that we’re difficult to play against.”
That organization will be tested early against a Loyola Maryland team loaded with attacking talent led by New York Red Bulls Academy grad Brian Saramago, who led the Greyhounds with eight goals in his freshman year.
But the Explorers have some weapons of their own with fifth-year senior Matt Robinson, forward Sixtus Akinlosotu and the addition of Lassiter. Irvine will also look to Ciarlante, junior Hayden Criollo, sophomore Pat McCarthy (the younger brother of Philadelphia Union goalkeeper John McCarthy) and some of the new arrivals to contribute to the attack.
Robinson led the team with six goals and six assists last season after missing all of the previous season to injury.
“We’re pretty much all sharing the goal of whatever it takes to get to the NCAAs,” said Robinson, of Lansdale. “I’m going to do everything I can do, leading on and off the field, playing wherever Rob wants me to play, to make that happen.”
To accomplish their goal, the senior-laden squad will need a repeat trip to the Atlantic 10 playoffs, where they were knocked out in the first round by Rhode Island last November. They’ll also need more consistency. After starting the season 5-1-0 last year, they went on a four-game skid before recovering in time to finish third in the conference.
“Last year was a momentum ride,” Irvine said. “We got off to a really good start, got some results we stole, lost four games in a row where we probably deserved more than we got but that’s college soccer.”
For home games this year at least, La Salle’s brand of college soccer will feel a little more authentic.
“I think it feels more like home and it obviously feels more like soccer should,” Irvine said. “It might sound corny, but there’s something special about seeing a green field with white soccer lines on it.”