This year’s freshmen in Ivy League men’s soccer have grabbed significant attention. Penn’s freshman forward Stephen Baker has already notched seven goals and is the highest goal-scorer so far this season on any Ivy League team. The next highest freshman in the scoring charts is Columbia’s Henning Sauerbier, who has found the back of the net three times in 2010: a creditable return for a left-sided midfielder. Sauerbier and his classmate David Najem have played a vital role for the Lions this year. They have also collected three Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards between them and will, in all probability, add to that tally before the curtain falls on the season.
Sauerbier opened the scoring for the Lions against Syracuse, in a game that Columbia (4-6-1) won 2-0 to lift the Mayor’s Cup. Later, Columbia beat Seton Hall 3-2, Delaware 3-0, and Long Island University 1-0, with the dynamic duo directly involved in at least one goal in each game.
Against Seton Hall, Sauerbier gave the Lions a 1-0 lead, which they threw away, until Najem was on hand to guide a finish from the edge of the box into the net for the equalizer. The Lions scored the winner when juniors Ronnie Shaban and Mike Mazzullo combined to put the finishing touch on a Najem set piece. In the victory over Delaware, Sauerbier scored a cracking goal from long range to put the Lions ahead 2-0. And against LIU, it was Najem’s exquisite through ball to sophomore striker Will Stamatis that led to the game winner of the night.
“The whole team won those games—it wasn’t just us,” Sauerbier said. “We’re learning a lot as a part of this unit, and we’re benefiting a lot from the team, so it’s good to play a role that lets the team benefit from us.”
The Lions have never failed to win a game when either Sauerbier or Najem has been on the score sheet. Some may call it a good luck charm, but senior co-captain Peppe Carotenuto feels there is more to it. “They’re both very smart players, and the stats don’t lie,” he said. “They’re young, but they play with a maturity well above their years, and their composure and movement off the ball is great, which makes it easy to play alongside them. They’ve adapted to the college game very quickly, and I’m sure they’ll accomplish many great feats in their college career.”
With six games to go, the Lions have already had as many wins as last season. The freshmen have been a major factor in this improvement. Sauerbier and Najem have had the most influence so far, but the others should not be forgotten. The Light Blue lost freshman defender David Westlake to an unfortunate injury, but the rest of the freshman class is ready to be called upon. Steven Daws has been a composed presence on the field whenever he has had a chance, Mike Attal finds himself just behind junior Alexander Aurrichio in the pecking order for the starting berth in goal, and Dan Maldonado—whom Lions fans have yet to see in action—has shown promise in training.
Co-captain Mazzullo, who has struck up a delightful central midfield partnership with Najem, feels that the intangibles the freshmen bring to the team are worth noting. “They’re composed players, which is especially good to see from freshmen,” he said. “Henning and David have shown great confidence, which is important for the Ivies, and the experience they have from playing big games in the past is showing when they take to the field. They’re both very dangerous in the attacking third, and they know how to finish—they’re real match winners.”
He added, “All six freshmen have integrated well, and they are positive influences to have around. Even the ones who aren’t playing every week work really hard in training, and these intangibles have helped us improve.”
Sauerbier and Najem are both looking ahead to their first Ivy League game on home soil. On Saturday, the Lions take on Princeton, which they last beat in 2002.
“We’ve been told about the history between the teams, and we want to set that right,” Najem said. “There’s really a lot of pride at stake. We haven’t performed at our top level in the Ivies and it’s a competitive league, but we’re at home now, so it will be easier, and we’re looking for a good result.”