All season, Ian McIntyre has placed emphasis on urging his team to keep fighting and add a second goal to separate itself from opponents. The Syracuse head coach has often watched his defense have to stave off late comeback attempts in nail-biting games.
The Orange finally gave itself a cushion late in its game on Tuesday against Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. Skylar Thomas scored in the 76th minute to propel Syracuse (8-2, 1-0) to a 2-0 win over the Minutemen (3-4-2, 0-0). Thomas received a pass from Jordan Murrell and took a shot on goal. After his first attempt dinged off the post, he retrieved his own miss and beat the goalie, icing the game for the Orange.
“When that second goal went in, it gave us a little cushion and we did a good job finishing the game,” McIntyre said in a phone interview.
SU outshot UMass 16-4 and attempted 10 corner kicks compared to none for the Minutemen.
McIntyre said his team came out aggressive from the get-go and put constant pressure on UMass. He said the game wasn’t pretty at times, but the Orange found a way to nullify the Minutemen’s attempts on goal while SU’s offense found the back of the net.
“We were good,” McIntyre said. “Especially in the first half I thought we really pushed ourselves and negated UMass’ opportunities. It’s very important on the road to not sit back and to attack.”
Murrell started the attack for the Orange with a goal in the 17th minute on a left-footed strike from outside the box, giving the visiting team a 1-0 advantage.
Murrell and Thomas provided offense at important moments on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s nice that we’ve been able to share the goals around a little bit,” McIntyre said. “Today we had two of our defenders scoring, which alleviates some of the pressure on the forward players.”
Murrell and Thomas also anchored a Syracuse defense that prevented UMass from attempting any shots on goal.
Alex Bono returned to the field after a one-game absence following a red card against Cal State Fullerton, but the goalie wasn’t seriously challenged.
Senior Mark Brode also played for the first time since Sept. 3when he helped the Orange rout Colgate 6-0.
Brode played 50 minutes on Tuesday, which is the most he’s amassed all season. He has been recuperating from a fractured finger that kept him sidelined for weeks.
McIntyre said it was great to see Brode back out on the field and playing substantial minutes.
“We’ve got such a young team that it was very pleasing to have a senior go out there and settle things down,” McIntyre said. “I’m delighted for him because he’s been a big part of our team on and off the field.”
While Bono and Brode returned for Syracuse, senior forward Lars Muller missed his second straight game. McIntyre said Muller is getting treatment on a groin injury.
McIntyre said he hopes Muller will be ready to go when the Orange faces Cincinnati on Saturday night.
McIntyre said Cincinnati is a very athletic and technically sound opponent, and that his team is in for a challenge in its first Big East road game. Despite the difficult matchup, McIntyre believes his players will be ready for yet another road game.
“We’re a team that’s shown resilience to go on the road and get results,” McIntyre said. “Now we’re gonna need those same results as we go on the road in conference play.”
As Alex Bono weighed his college choices, his father asked him a simple question.
He asked whether or not his son, a top recruit, wanted to go to a Top-25 school or an up-and-coming program looking to change its culture.
“It’s really appealing to me to go to a team that is on the rise and is really trying to progress, and have the opportunity to be on the team that really turns the program around,” Bono said.
Bono found that at Syracuse, he could play right away, and through eight games, he has led a previously struggling program to a 6-2 start while posting six shutouts. He was rated the No. 1 recruit in New York by TopDrawerSoccer.com and was listed as the sixth-best goalkeeper by ESPN Rise. The freshman goalie from Baldwinsville considered St. John’s, Northeastern, Georgetown and Villanova, but ultimately decided to stay close to home and try to improve a team that finished 3-12-1 a season ago.
Bono hopes his terrific play translates to the Big East. Syracuse faces off against Seton Hall on Saturday at SU Soccer Stadium.
Head coach Ian McIntyre has been impressed by Bono’s ability to lead the team and make clutch saves as a freshman.
“I think, for a young goalkeeper, he’s commanded his area very well,” McIntyre said. “He’s stopping a lot of aerial threats. Balls have been put in there and he’s got the confidence to come and claim them, and that presence for a young goalkeeper is very impressive.”
Bono’s destiny as a top-notch goalie wasn’t always set in stone. He didn’t start playing soccer until the age of 8 or 9. At 6 feet 3 inches and 195 pounds, Bono always had a passion for basketball and had a tough time deciding which sport to pursue.
He played basketball through his freshman year of high school, but he then realized that his future was in soccer and committed to the sport.
“He really liked basketball a lot, but as time went on, he really excelled at soccer,” his father, Mark Bono, said. “At some point in time, you have to give up one, and it was basketball.”
Bono’s decision to give up basketball and dedication to soccer paved the way for a spot on Empire United to play for U-16 coach Paul Valenti and U-18 coach Ben Cross.
Valenti said much of Bono’s success on Empire United, and now with Syracuse, can be attributed to the size of his hands.
“He’s got enormous hands,” Valenti said. “He loves to shake people’s hands or give people five. Especially other coaches, because I think he wants them to know how big his hands are as a goalie. We always bust his chops about that.”
Cross said that Bono is always trying to improve and is never content with settling for anything less than his best. Mark Bono said that Alex’s drive is what makes him such a terrific goalie and that he has helped his brother become a better goalie over the years.
“He hates to lose,” Mark Bono said. “He’s just that kind of kid who’s going to give 110 percent every time he steps on the field. He once told his younger brother, ‘When you step on the field, you have to play every game like it’s your last game,’ and that’s what he does.”
That vocal leadership and passion has translated to the college level, as Bono has already won Big East Goalkeeper of the Week and saved 27 shots en route to six wins.
Teammate Lars Muller noted Bono’s vocal leadership as a particular strength and said he has a strong voice on the team, despite being a freshman.
“I think, first of all, it’s his personality on the field,” Muller said. “He always knows what he’s going to do, his shouting is really good and the way he talks is unbelievable. I think he’s got the whole package.”
Syracuse defender Jordan Murrell said having Bono in net improves the play of the defense because of his constant communication and command of the team. His confidence permeates the entire SU backline.
Freshman Stefanos Stamoulacatos, who played with Bono on Empire United, said Bono’s presence and poise in goal is what differentiates him from other keepers.
“It’s those moments where we need it most where he makes that amazing save,” Stamoulacatos said. “There are so many things that I could name off. He’s just a great all-around keeper.”
Marcus Coker opened the front door of his Beltsville, Md., home and walked inside. After two years at Iowa — more than 900 miles away from his mother — Coker now has the chance to see her on a regular basis.
Since transferring to Stony Brook in January, Coker has visited home more than 10 times, often without telling his mother, Tammy Money, in advance.
“That’s one of the best surprises ever, to see your kid walk through the door,” Money said.
Coker transferred to Stony Brook after he was suspended for the Insight Bowl following an accusation that he sexually abused a woman. By joining the Seawolves, Coker brings big-time experience from playing in one of the nation’s top conferences. He’s given a significant boost to Stony Brook’s run-heavy offense, which Syracuse will try to contain Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Carrier Dome.
After emerging as the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten in 2011, Coker’s season and life took a dramatic twist on Oct. 28, when Iowa’s athletic department was informed of the accusation.
Coker was not charged, and the case was dropped after the alleged victim decided not to take criminal action. But 10 days before the team’s bowl game — after the case was dropped — the university suspended Coker for violating the UI Student-Athlete Code of Conduct.
His future with the Hawkeyes was in question. He withdrew from Iowa in January, and the direction of his college career was uncertain. Coker began to explore other options, meeting with the Stony Brook coaching staff later that month.
He quickly decided to transfer to the Football Championship Series school, which allowed him to play right away rather than sitting out a season under NCAA transfer rules.
“He chose Stony Brook because he felt like it was the right fit,” Money said. “He really wanted to get right back into the swing of things, and that’s what Stony Brook was offering him.”
Coker has excelled in his first two games at SBU, playing in front of family. He rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns as part of the team’s high-powered running attack, and he’ll look to continue his hot start this weekend against the Orange.
Head coach Chuck Priore said Coker developed a connection with the players and the campus community during his official visit.
After much deliberation, Coker officially decided to transfer to be closer to home and to his mother. The running back was also intrigued by Stony Brook’s offense, which piled up 3,475 rushing yards in 2011.
“It’s just a downhill, hard type of offense,” Coker said.
Coker has helped the Seawolves total 822 rushing yards through their first two games. He is already an integral part of SBU’s offense, just as he was at Iowa.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said he expects Coker to continue to excel at Stony Brook.
“What he brought to our team last year was just outstanding play,” Ferentz said during the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference on Sept. 4. “He’s a tough, competitive guy. He’s a strong runner and a great young man.”
Marcus honed his running skills at DeMatha Catholic High School, where he played under coach Bill McGregor. McGregor recalls Coker as a strong player with great speed and toughness.
With Coker lining up in the backfield, McGregor was able to be creative with his play calling.
In one particular game, DeMatha was down three points with one minute remaining. McGregor ran a draw play for Coker, who took it 70 yards for a touchdown to win the game.
“That’s the kind of young man he was,” McGregor said. “You could always count on Marcus to make the big play for us, and he always did.
“I know he had some trouble at Iowa, but he’s a very, very fine young man.”
And now, his mother can support Coker on a weekly basis in person. Money only attended three of his games at Iowa in his two seasons with the Hawkeyes.
She watched her son on TV as he rushed for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011.
Now, she drives more than four hours from Beltsville, Md., to Stony Brook, N.Y., to see him play, but she doesn’t go alone. Money was one of 16 family members to watch Coker play his first game as a member of the Seawolves against Central Connecticut on Sept. 1.
“It just felt totally right,” Money said. “We missed being at games live. We always watched him play on television when he was at Iowa, but to be there in person is amazing.”
Priore said the opportunity for Coker to be closer to his family was an important factor in his decision to transfer.
“They’re a very close family, and the family loves football,” Priore said. “I think he loves to have the opportunity to have them here each and every week.”
Coker appreciates having the chance to play in front of his mom and the rest of his family.
“My mom’s my best friend,” he said. “She used to go to all my practices and games. Now she’ll be able to come out to all the games, and that’s important for her, too.”
Money said he has made the transition smoothly and enjoys the culture of Stony Brook football. His teammates have embraced him as part of the family already.
Coker appreciates spending more time with his mother at home and having her in the stands at every home game.
“I think he loves Stony Brook. He seems to be really happy at Stony Brook,” Money said. “We’re really happy with him here. He loves being able to come home when he wants to.”