COLUMBIA — The start of the Columbia College men’s soccer season has not gone as expected, with the team still winless so far this year. With conference play beginning next week, however, there is still time for the team to salvage its season.
“We need to keep fighting with conference play around the corner and just believe in ourselves,” said John Klein, head coach. “I expect our team to step up and change the direction we are heading.”
The Cougars had a difficult start with a nonconference schedule filled with ranked and proven teams. The team has lost to Graceland University, last year’s NAIA national champion . Graceland is currently the No. 3 ranked team in the nation.
The Cougars have also lost to Hastings College, which is ranked No. 18, and Grandview College, which was one game away from the national championship game last year. For Columbia College, which came into the season ranked No. 22, this was obviously not the start the team had hoped for.
“Disappointment is the first word that comes to mind when I think of our first (five) games,” starting forward Lloyd Jacobs said.
The head coach, however, remains upbeat.
“Guys are playing great,” Klein said. “We just continue to have a lapse or two on defense in our back line. We have created lots of goal scoring chances, but couldn’t finish. We aren’t finishing on opportunities.”
Goal scoring has been a major problem for the Cougars so far this year. The team has only scored four goals. According to Klein, unluckiness is a large part of the problem for the Cougars. They haven’t been able to find the back of the net.
The buildup is nice, the passing is good, but the finishing is just lacking, midfielder Jimmy Stranz said.
“Finishing is the key issue,” Klein said. “We’ve had strong midfield play but are just not getting it done in the box.”
“If we can find the net earlier in games, get a little bit of confidence going, I think our offense will really take off,” he said.
Columbia College has also struggled defending its own goal. It has given up 10 goals in just five games. To make things even more difficult, the team has developed a trend of allowing early goals, with goals coming in the first 10 minutes in four of its five games. Overall, the Cougars have given up 10 goals while scoring just four, placing even more pressure on an already strained offense.
“We play well for about 70 to 80 minutes a game,” Lloyd said. “But mistakes and loss of concentration have cost us early and late in games.” We need to keep our focus and continue to fight even if we get down early.”
“We could easily be 5-0 right now but just have not got it done,” Stranz said. “Our games have been a lot closer than the final score suggests. I feel we have outplayed almost everyone, and I think if you asked anyone who has watched us they would agree.”
Klein attributes the early defensive struggles to a lack of concentration and mental breakdowns between the back line. There is no excuse for the early game goals and it has to stop if the team wants to be successful according to Klein.
“Someone has got to step up on this team,” Klein said. “Someone has got to put this team on their shoulders and take us to where we want to go.”
The Cougars will have five conference games before heading into the American Midwest Conference tournament at the end of October. Sprinkled between these games Columbia College will continue to face tough nonconference opponents such as Baker University, which is ranked No. 19 in the nation, and No. 12 ranked Judson College, which is hosting a tournament this weekend. Stranz said these difficult games will make the team better later in the season when it matters.
“The real season has yet to begin,” Stranz said. “Conference play is still a few games away and all this tough competition is just making us better for that. I could see us finishing the season 13-5 or 11-7, but as long as we play well in conference play then we have a shot of making the national tournament in the end.”
The Cougars go up against Asbury College on Friday and then take on Judson College on Saturday in the Judson College tournament in Elgin, Ill.
“With a win at this tournament this weekend we can get back on track and get ready for conference, which is most important,” Lloyd said. “I still believe in our team.”
Stranz shares this belief.
“We kind of had an unfair start so far this year that has misinterpreted how good we are. We played some really tough teams and played them well, just didn’t get the end result we wanted.”
Columbia College’s next home game will be on Sept. 26, against Illinois-Springfield.