After an undefeated spring season last year and a fall regular season that saw Temple’s men’s soccer program reach new heights, this spring was supposed to be another step forward for a program on the rise.
But like programs and teams across the country, the Owls spring season came to a screeching halt with the spread of coronavirus in March. After an exhibition game in February against USL Championship team Loudoun United, the team’s remaining spring exhibitions were canceled, training was shuttered and the players returned home to finish out their coursework online.
“I think you realize that as a coach you’re responsible for so much more whether it’s just being there to talk, helping set a good example, being compassionate and obviously doing your part in a much bigger landscape than just soccer,” head coach Brian Rowland said in a recent interview. “Going through this you get humble pretty quickly and realize the things you think are important, maybe aren’t quite as important as you want to believe them to be.”
Typically an opportunity for the coaching staff to measure their team’s progress in the spring, Temple’s games against Navy, Penn State, Loyola Maryland and Drexel had to be scrapped and preparations for the fall regular season put on hold.
“We’re trying to keep on an optimistic side of this and we’re looking at, okay, maybe there’s opportunities for us to do more team building, even though it’s virtual, and maybe we can become more connected as a team and then finding ways that we don’t always get to do some of those softer skills of connectivity and development,” Rowland said. “Certainly there’s an opportunity for us to grow in other areas that can benefit us now and in the fall season.”
We’re thankful for the opportunity to juggle together around the world! pic.twitter.com/EF4jfZDNyA— Temple Men's Soccer (@Temple_MSoc) April 10, 2020
With a roster of players hailing from five countries outside the U.S. and eight states outside Pennsylvania (plus Washington D.C.), the team has pushed forward operating on several different time zones, but the players have managed to stay in contact with each other and the staff the way so many soccer players are these days: through video conferencing.
“I went to school for soccer and academics; being away from the sport is like having part of your life ripped away from you,” said Andres Charles, a junior midfielder from British Columbia, who came out of the Vancouver Whitecaps academy system. “Even though this is the case, we are managing to push ourselves as a team to continue working on technique and soccer skills while away from each other. This will hopefully help us when we come together again in the future.”
His closest teammate geographically right no is junior Santiago Majewski, who is 1,520 miles away in San Diego. Furthest away is Amir Cohen, 6,406 miles away in Givatayam, Israel.
“Because this is something that doesn’t happen ever, people at Temple are willing to help you out with any problems you might have,” he said. “My teammates have also been a big help because we have come up with plans to adjust to this change and hopefully come out on top when all of this has past.”
Sean Karani, who was one of the team’s stars as a freshman last season contributing 3 goals and 3 assists in 17 starts, has been back home in Wichita, Kansas, where he said he’s appreciated the unexpected time with his family but is anxious to get back to Philadelphia with his teammates.
“Every player is dedicated to coming back better to make up for the early end of our season,” said Karani, who played in Sporting Kansas City’s academy system and for their USL Championship team prior to his arrival on North Broad Street. “The thing that gets me through this is that I know this will not last forever; this is a chance to better myself and my game so I’m mentally and physically prepared for the fall season.”
Without any games or content coming out of training to share, the program has remained active online. They recently hosted an online FIFA tournament and streamed their 2-0 win over Penn State in Ambler in 2015.
After a lot of turnover in his first two seasons as head coach, Rowland has a roster that’s mostly set so the shutdown hasn’t had a big impact on his recruiting plans for the fall. Though he lost Lukas Fernandes (Pittsburgh Riverhounds) and Simon Lefebvre (Loudoun United) to the professional ranks after both completed their eligibility, the cupboard is far from being bare for a team that knocked off several nationally-ranked opponents, reached new heights in the RPI (No. 34) and won a conference playoff game in 2019.
“(The shutdown) is unfortunate because certainly we felt like things were really starting to trend in the right direction,” Rowland said. “We were getting the momentum that we wanted to, but the people in charge are going to do a good job and we’ll dust ourselves off, figure out where we’re at and see how we can continue to evolve and grow. I don’t think that that’ll ever change.”