While it won’t impact the all-important conference standings, there will be plenty on the line tonight at Sweeney Field when Saint Joseph’s raises the curtain on their 2017 season against visiting Temple.
A momentum boost, revenge for a 2-0 loss last season and a win in the Philly Soccer Six standings would all come with a Hawks win over their inner-city rivals.
“It being Temple honestly makes it a little more important for us, especially the guys who are from the area,” said senior midfielder Matt Crawford, of Bensalem. “It's always exciting to play a Philly team.”
Nearly two dozen players between the two teams hail from the greater Philadelphia region and while Saint Joseph’s doesn’t have the international influence of the Owls, head coach Don D’Ambra has brought in a solid cast of newcomers hailing from New York, Indiana and California expected to make an impact.
“We have a good mix of old and young,” D’Ambra said. “A lot of our older more experienced guys are in the back and we’ve had a lot of freshmen and sophomores contributing in preseason.”
A pair of outside backs from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, Daniel Morales from FC Golden State and David Grana from Empire United, are expected to contribute on the back line, which will be anchored by senior Ben Zambetti and junior Eddie McCusker.
Freshmen midfielders Aidan Watkins and Ritchie Barry from North Jersey have also looked strong in preseason while Dontrim Namani, who played in the Development Academy for Continental FC and the Philadelphia Union Academy, is another strong addition.
“We have some young players who are pretty talented,” Crawford said.
Crawford led the offense last season with seven goals - three game-winners - and three assists. Returning forward Derek Mackinnon was second with three goals and a pair of assists.
Pitt transfer John Fritz and second-year forward Isaac Agyapong will be expected to contribute to the attack while the midfield has Lou Vilotti back after missing last season to injury while senior Nick Hartwell and junior Kyle Lochbihler are two of only three returning players who appeared in all 18 games last season (Crawford is the other).
Defense will continue to be the Hawks strength with their experienced central defensive duo ahead of goalkeeper Greg O’Connell, who had five clean sheets last season.
“I’m looking forward to getting a lot of shutouts this season,” O’Connell said. “Ben and Ed are going to play even bigger roles this year and we have a couple of young guys who are going to contribute.”
That mix of veteran experience and raw talent, if D’Ambra is able to balance it all and find cohesion, should have the Hawks back in the postseason hunt in the Atlantic 10, after five straight conference losses to the end the season canceled out their 3-0-0 start last season.
“This year it’s all about wins,” Crawford said.
That all starts tonight in front of their home fans on the Hill.
“Being a home opener on campus, there’s a lot of excitement,” D’Ambra said.