When the Oswego State men’s soccer team heads to western New York on Friday to play SUNY Fredonia, they will be staring the most important game of the season in the face.
A win keeps their slim playoff hopes alive, but a loss will crush their chances of postseason play. Fredonia, currently two points ahead of Oswego State in the conference standings, would provide a signature win in a late season playoff push for the Lakers.
Currently 5-5-1 on the season, the Lakers have not won a game since Sept. 17, falling from the top of the conference standings to ninth place, a mere one point separating them from the cellar of the SUNYAC standings.
“We want to play Fredonia like we’d play anybody,” sophomore forward Mike Naab said. “We can’t hold anything back. Friday is a must win for us if we want to make the playoffs.”
Naab, The team’s leading point scorer on the season, suggests that the team is over its worst stretch of the season and will bounce back strong following the comeback tie against SUNY Plattsburgh last Saturday.
“We knew we had to make a statement against Plattsburgh,” Naab said. “If we had lost that game, it would have felt like the season was lost. We needed a spark after the three game losing streak. The Plattsburgh game put us back on track.”
Senior captain Bryan Pacchiana, who scored the game-tying goal against Plattsburgh, also believes that Friday’s game is of the upmost importance.
“The Fredonia game is always a big game, but this weekend’s game is the biggest game of our season and is a real test for us to prove that we can rise to the challenge,” Pacchiana said. “If we don’t come out of that game with a victory we are putting ourselves in an even bigger hole then we are already in.”
Last season, the Lakers beat Fredonia on their home field by a score of 2-1. Although there are 17 first-year players on the team this season, the returners who played in the Fredonia game remember it very well.
“Fredonia is an extremely physical team and is one of our biggest rivals,” said Pacchiana, who scored the game-winning goal last season against the Blue Devils. “They have always been a well-prepared team, they seem to get bigger and faster every year that I have played them.”
“Fredonia is a solid team every year,” assistant coach Anthony Green said. “They get good recruits, and work like crazy in the offseason to get better. The game against Fredonia is crucial.”
Oswego State has struggled against SUNYAC teams in recent years. The Lakers went 3-6 in conference play last season and haven’t had a winning conference record since 2008. This season the Lakers are 0-3-1 in SUNYAC play.
“After the slow start to the conference schedule, there’s not much room for error seeing that usually you need five wins to make the playoffs,” Greene said.
“The SUNYAC is more physical than most young players expect,” Naab said. “Referees let a lot of calls go because it’s so physical. There are no easy games in the SUNYAC.”
In addition to struggling within the SUNYAC, the team has had trouble on the road. Since 2008, the team is 7-24-1 away, including a winless streak dating back to Oct. 27, 2009.
“Playing Fredonia at their home field is going to be tough because they always have a big turnout for every game,” Pacchiana said.
Dating back to Sept. 3, the Lakers have yet to score more than one goal in a game, leading to a record of 3-5-1 over that span.
“Our offense is playing so direct right now, everything is through the middle. We need to play down the wings more,” Naab said. “We could also use more selfish play. We need to capitalize on all of our opportunities.”
“We need to start moving and shifting as a team,” Greene said. “At times we become separated on offense which causes us to not get forward as much as we like, hurting our offense capabilities. Being more vocal, along with thinking ahead and being creative, goes along way into being more productive offensively.”
With the season coming down to the wire, Naab also acknowledges that he is ready to put more pressure on himself as a scorer and playmaker.
“I have a lot more confidence now that the team is starting to look for me with the ball,” Naab said. “I know I can make a play or create something in order to help the team. Last year I may have kicked some of these shots away, but now I have the confidence to make the best play for my team.”
“I knew from the day Mike came to Oswego he would be an impact player on the team. This year he has come up big in games where we needed someone to pick us up,” Greene said. “Every team needs a player like Mike to be successful throughout a season.”
“Mike continues to get more comfortable on the ball and is turning into one of the most consistent players on our team,” Pacchiana said.
The Lakers will continue to evaluate their problems on offense with each upcoming practice and game, but tonight’s goal is simple: win and keep the playoff hopes alive.
“I wish I could play right now,” Naab said. “I want to stop talking about the game and get out there. We need this win.”