By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When LIU Brooklyn men's soccer coach T.J. Kostecky heard that his team was picked to finish last in the Northeast Conference this season in a recent coach's poll he laughed.
“I think it's fantastic because it's going to be a great motivator for our guys,” Kostecky said. “That's wonderful actually. When you believe in yourself and others don't believe in you it motivates you much more. Honestly, that's one of best things I've heard all day.”
Kostecky has a good reason to feel confident because after a slow start to last season, the Blackbirds made big improvements and finished the season with a 4-3-1 record. They ended the year in fifth place and only missed the playoffs after a loss to rival St. Francis College, the eventual NEC champions, on the final day of the season.
The Blackbirds also return with nearly the same roster as a year ago with just two goalkeepers graduating, neither of whom were starters by season’s end.
“We've improved everywhere,” Kostecky said. “At every position we're a little bit better and at some positions we’re maybe a lot better. We're very excited and not concerned with what other people expect of us. We set our own standards and those are going to be very high.”
On top of the improvements the Blackbirds made on the field, and the experience they gained last season, Kostecky mentioned that many of them have put in a tremendous amount of work during the offseason. He said he expects big things from seniors Brice Merwine, Matt Mummert and David Nuernberg and junior Tanner Sica as well.
"Getting so close only to lose in the final game last season made a lot of guys hungry," Mummert said. "We have a pretty strong core of guys that have been working very hard to make up for that. We feel that our goalkeeper Logan Keys made big strides last year and is already looking like a leader early on this season. Then we have a group of impressive underclassmen."
The Blackbirds have added eight new players to this year's roster. The three they are most excited about are Naeem Charles, from Brooklyn's Westinghouse High School, Isak Doumbia, a Swedish import and Brian Paredes, another New Yorker.
"The new guys have really impressed us in sessions so far," Mummert said. "One of the local kids from Brooklyn, Naeem Charles, looks great, Doumbia is a player that we're going to need on the field as much as possible and Isak is another guy. We're still getting transitioned, but when you add talent like that to the team it's pretty exciting."
Kostecky wants to see the same type of improvement with this year's squad as last year's and he enlisted a tough non-conference schedule, including matchups against teams from UMBC, Delaware and George Mason, to help.
"That's what I want from all of my teams — for them to improve as the season goes on,” Kostecky said. “Ultimately everything we do is to prepare for those conference matchups. Our expectation is get into the top four and then after that we want to make it to the championships."
The Blackbirds are nearly set for their home opener, an exhibition against St. Peter's on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 4:00 p.m. at LIU Field. After that they head on perhaps their toughest road trip of the season when they head to Baltimore to take on UMBC and then to Delaware.
Follow along with the Blackbird’s season as they try to surprise everyone that picked them to finish last in the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and online at www.BrooklynEagleSports.com.