Man With a Plan
For men’s soccer Head Coach John Smith, moving to Cornell was quite a culture shock. After being names the best head coach in all of NCAA soccer in 2016 after masterminding a 2015 national championship at Stanford University, Coach Smith moved to Ithaca. Moving from a school with a national championship to a school that cannot offer athletic scholarships would be hard for any coach, and it showed. Cornell lost 14 of 17 games in Coach Smith’s first season in charge, with eight of the 14 losses with a differential of two or more goals. The team lost all seven of its conference games, and ended the season on a five-game losing streak.
However, Coach Smith was hard at work during the offseason training the team and bringing in new recruits. With a freshman class of his own making and a full season to shape the team, the men’s varsity soccer team looked to be an entirely different team this year. Almost finishing with a break-even record, Cornell recorded seven wins and two draws, while also gaining seven more points in conference play than it did in the previous season. This included statement wins such as the team’s dramatic double-overtime victory at Berman Field over Brown to keep Cornell in the hunt for the Ivy League title.
Coach Smith obviously saw something during the offseason training from some of the players he inherited, and many of them played key roles on the team in the 2017 season. Sophomore George Pedlow started 15 of Cornell’s 17 games, and tied for second in goals scored with three, also chipping in with an assist and 20 shots. Senior Eric Nuss was also a vital part go the team and will be missed; he started in all 15 games he played it. A mainstay at the back, Nuss showed excellent discipline and leadership by not picking up a booking all year.
However, what really identifies Coach Smith as a “man with a plan” was his first recruiting class. Many were hoping to see what kind of player such a high-caliber coach could bring into the program, and they were not disappointed. Freshman Tyler Bagley played all 17 games and led the team with four assists. Freshman Caleb McAuslan showed great energy from the forward position and added two goals and an assist in 14 starts. Other notable freshmen, including Vardhin Manoj and Kepler Despinos played key roles in many games.
The crown jewel and centerpiece of the team this year was freshman center midfielder Tommy Hansan. One of two players to start every game, the freshman from Bethesda, MD was crucial to Coach Smith’s strategy. Using the wings to attack the opponent backline required a midfielder who could hold the ball and switch play at a moment’s notice, and Hansan was expert, doing both tasks quite adroitly. Hansen also showed a killer instinct which helped him lead the team with give goals scored.
There is clearly work still to do, as Cornell ended the season on a three-game losing streak to fall out of contention for the conference title. But, the team is certainly moving in the right direction. While it might be too optimistic to suggest the 2018 season will see the same level of change and improved performance that Cornell fans saw last semester, there is one thing for sure. Coach Smith is around to stay, and the style of player he brings in suggests his plan has an end-goal that is already in sight, thanks to his first recruiting class: an Ivy League Championship.