Among the rousing success of the women's soccer team this past weekend, the men quietly finished their season with a 4-0 loss to Akron in Ohio. With the win, Akron claimed their 11th consecutive MAC regular season title, and UB dropped to 5-10-2 on the year, a two-game improvement over 2013.
Based on the youth of the team - graduating only three seniors - and the marked improvement over the season (3-1-2 in October) I think there's many reasons to be excited. The women won five games in 2013 and are now headed to Penn State in the NCAA Tourney. The men maybe don't have a similar leap in them, but the pieces are there.
Before that, though let's look back at the season:
In August, we looked at Stu Riddle's program-building success at Western Michigan and the overloaded freshman and sophomore classes and comfortably predicting an upward trajectory for this team, though you had to wonder just how far there is the climb from a three-win (out of 18 games) season.
Through the exhibition season, we were stunned by the excellent play of freshman Abdulla Al-Kalisy and both goalies as UB rolled to easy shutout victories over overmatched opponents in mid-August. Add in a strong fan turnout at the final exhibition, a 2-0 win over D-III power Rochester, and I for one was feeling pretty good.
Twin losses in San Diego on the opening weekend of the season were not a huge surprise, though the team did score the first goal of the regular season, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime against San Diego thanks to Braden Culver.
UB's first home game came on a Friday night against Bryant. The game was delayed midway through the second half due to lightning, so I left on my bike, but UB put together perhaps its most memorable of the season. Russell Cicerone answered a 12th-minute Bryant goal just 28 seconds later in the first half, and with time running out David Enstrom was able to get one across in the 89th minute just 59 seconds after the Bulldogs appeared to score the game-winner.
When the teams pushed through to double-overtime, Cicerone struck again:
The following Sunday UB lost to Bucknell 2-0 in a game that saw them drastically change their strategy, perhaps to challenge a strength of the Bison.
With that the Bulls hit a pair of Big Four rivalry matches on the road, losing to Niagara 2-0 and to Canisius 1-0 in a single weekend. The Canisius game in particularly was very winnable, but Buffalo was stymied until the last 30 minutes by the Golden Griffins' physical play.
Coming home to UB Stadium on a Friday night, UB once again put together a memorable performance en route to a 3-2 win. After surrendering a go-ahead goal seconds before half, the Bulls scored twice in five minutes midway through the second as, frankly, Detroit lost their minds. The Titans were warned with three cards in the first half, and another in the 56th minute, before their coach was ejected in a 2-2 tie.
Less than 30 seconds after that red, Cicerone sent a great pass up the middle that senior Kristian Lee-Him dribbled twice and powered home from twenty yards out. It was a fun win.
A rough game on the road at Duquesne and a particularly rough game against Cornell - in which the Big Red scored five times on five shots on goal - preceded an easy 2-0 win over Houghton and the start of MAC play.
The Bulls hit October and played their best soccer of the season. Bolstered by that 2-0 win over Houghton, UB earned a scrappy come-from-behind draw in a grudge match against Western Michigan before a heartbreaking nonconference loss to Lafayette (despite an excellent, EXCELLENT video feed from the Pennsylvania school) in a physical game that was, I believe, was Waleed Cassis' finest match of the year.
UB followed up with a strong tie against Bowling Green and a big win in their final nonconference match - a 4-0 victory over St. Bonaventure, the Bull's lone Big Four win of the year.
Senior Night saw the Bulls get a crucial MAC win over Northern Illinois - yet another home game with an angry coach - after the Huskies were hit with five yellows and two reds and finished the game with nine men. Despite the head coach thinking they controlled the final portion of the game, UB was happy to sit back and let the Huskies try to play nine-on-eleven.
The results in the first three MAC matches were key, because UB finished the season with road trips to the two best teams in the MAC in Akron and West Virginia. They had a good chance of advancing to the MAC tournament, with a four-point lead on both Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green was able to get two wins to close out the year to leapfrog Buffalo, as the Bulls lost Russell Cicerone to injury early against WVU and in both games fell down in the first half and were unable to fight back.
Despite the late-season losses, it was a strong season for the Bulls, who clearly improved even within the year. Russell Cicerone scored the most goals by a Bull since 1999, and as a team UB improved their scoring by 26% over last year. Off the statsheet, forwards Sean Young and Steven Stryker were impressive, while young players on the backline like Daniel Cramarossa, Austin Place, and Alec Fisher all made their names known.
Next year the only position undergoing extreme turnover is goalie, where sophomore-to-be Cameron Hogg will take over full time in net. Otherwise though, offensive staples Cicerone and Marcus Hanson both return, and only Kristian Lee-Him departs from the midfield. They may not match the turnaround of the women's team this season, but the men are without a doubt trending up.