The men’s soccer team (3-2) desperately needed offense coming into this season. In 2012, the Lions generated fewer shots per game than the other seven Ivies, and only Yale scored less frequently. From that squad, former second-team All-Ivy midfielder Nick Scott graduated, and two other midfielders moved on as well, further depleting the lineup. Without changes, it looked like the team would rely almost exclusively on seniors David Najem, Henning Sauerbier, and Will Stamatis for offense.
Fortunately for Columbia, there were changes, and so far, the returns have looked good.
Najem, who took on a bigger role as an attacker this season, has nearly doubled his career goal total. He picked up his ninth career goal of the season on Saturday, despite entering the season with only five.
“I started my run outside and then once I made eye contact with [first-year midfielder Andrew] Tinari, I broke inside,” Najem said in an email. “He played another fantastic ball through their center and left backs. I opened up my hips and played it over the keeper into the far corner.”
It was the third consecutive game in which Tinari assisted on a goal by Najem. Against Manhattan last week, Tinari also sent Najem in behind the defense, and the senior beat the Jaspers’ goalkeeper. Against Iona, Tinari and first-year forward Nicholas Pappacena, who plays frequently with Najem and Tinari, both picked up assists.
With this trio on the pitch, Columbia has scored four goals on 14 shots in 145 minutes—2.5 goals and 8.7 shots per 90 minutes. With two of the three on the field, the Light Blue has scored 1.6 goals on 9.9 shots per 90 minutes—numbers that increase to 1.8 and 11.1 when excluding the team’s season opener at Creighton, which was ranked No. 1 in the country last week.
“Together I think we do a great job at creating holes in the defense that allow us to break them down and score goals,” Pappacena said in an email. “We’re all good technical players that like to have the ball at our feet so we know that when any of us are on the ball there’s always a chance to create a goal scoring opportunity.”
Najem agreed. “We all like to face forward and run at the defense when we can, but also are very comfortable combining as a triangle and using each other’s movements to create more space for one another,” he said.
Pappacena is another player who can chase, through balls behind opposing defenses, which gives head coach Kevin Anderson another alternative to Stamatis and sophomore forward Frederick Elliot. Moreover, with Sauerbier and Stamatis still in the mix, Anderson has the option of replacing one ball-controlling forward with another without tiring any of them out.
Those advantages came in handy late in the win over Northeastern. Along with players like junior midfielder Anton Wesener—who replaced Pappacena for the match late in the first half—the rested Najem and Tinari helped Columbia control the ball in the final 15 minutes, even as the Huskies pressed for the tying goal.
The trio’s possession game also opens up space for the rest of the team to jump into the attack. Pappacena said the Lions coaching staff wants him to position himself to spread the defense and open up space for his midfielders, and this philosophy appears to be paying dividends. Sophomore Antonio Matarazzo had two goals while attacking from his customary defensive midfield position, and freshman back Rhys Williams and senior back David Westlake have each picked up points while crashing the weak side on a cross.
With the early-October Ivy opener against Brown—a stingy defensive team that was ranked in the top 25 last week—on the horizon, Najem and Pappacena said the team needs to keep improving.
“I feel there’s still plenty of room for growth in all areas,” Pappacena said. “It was a little bumpy at first as all transitions are, but we’re now getting on the same page and it’s showing.”