Reigning Patriot League champions men’s soccer looks to continue their winning ways
First full season since 2019 sees the Eagles seeking to repeat
This season puts the Eagles to the test after the shortened spring season's stunning second-round NCAA tournament run. While the excitement of the preseason and the upcoming season is undeniable, the team looks to maintain the successes of their 2021 campaign and remain on top of the Patriot League.
Despite the pandemic surging once again, American University’s 2021 season will look like it did in pre-coronavirus times. AU will play a 17-game schedule stretching into early November, compared to just the six regular-season games that the team played in the spring. The team will once again play every other school within the Patriot League and a number from outside the conference.
“I’m excited to just get back into the preseason with the guys,” head coach Zach Samol said. “It’s always the best time, the reason why you coach, to be coaching the guys and be around them. Trying to make us the best team that we can be.”
This preseason will be the first for many of the Eagles, as last spring's shortened season didn’t have a preseason.
“Last year's class and this year's class, combined, it’s really their first experience going through preseason with us,” Samol said. “It is new for a lot of the guys on the team, over half of the guys on the team. In that sense, we are still a young team, a young program.”
Fifth-year senior and team captain Jerry Zouantcha emphasized helping the younger players and building team chemistry as the Eagles enter the season.
“The freshman came in, and me and the co-captains planned out a whole schedule with times to lift, do fitness, to play and team bonding stuff,” Zouantcha said. “We’ve been doing stuff since day one to help the squad because team chemistry is so important off the field; if you want to compete for each other on the field, you have to trust the people next to you. That trust isn’t just earned on the field.”
The team will have a target on their back from the rest of the league after winning the Patriot League last season and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Along with being reigning champions, the Eagles came in second in the Patriot League preseason poll. Samol knows there is pressure on the team to perform, that the Eagles need to make improvements to continue winning.
“One of the things we definitely want to be better at this year is with the ball,” Samol said. “We felt in the spring that the character of the team, the toughness of the team, the ability to transition on other teams and win the ball and be difficult to break down was good. This year we want that to continue and stay the same, but we want to build on our ability to run the game a little bit more in the other team’s half.”
The improvements will likely be made, and despite every team in the Patriot League wanting to knock them off their perch atop the conference, the extra attention on the team is of little concern to the Eagles. In fact, it is pushing them to do even better.
“There is pressure, but in a good way,” Zouantcha said. “There is a little bit of that self-motivation there, even more so than I think last year. Now that we have established ourselves as a competitor in the league again, it’s now elevated training, it's elevated competition. It’s making practice so much more competitive.”
The Eagles will look to begin the season with a win against Furman University at Reeve’s Field Thursday at 4 p.m ET.