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Buffalo Men's Soccer Season Preview: Time for a Step Forward

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UB Athletics

Stu Riddle's second season at the helm was another year filled with growing pains, but you could also see the foundations for the future. Riddle's Bulls improved from three wins in his first season to five in 2014 and were led once again by sophomore and First Team All-MAC midfielder Russell Cicerone. As the season progressed, the squad showed improvement especially on defense, closing their nonconference schedule with two wins and a tie.

A strong showing in the first three games of the MAC portion of the schedule fizzled in the final two, when Cicerone was hurt and Buffalo went up against the top two teams in the conference. For a young team starting just a single senior and a single junior, improvement within the season, a pair of young anchors in Cicerone and Fox Slotemaker, and a full season's worth of minutes for plenty of freshmen and sophomores, it was a good year.

This season, the stakes and expectations need to be higher as Riddle's recruits come into their own.

Key Departures

Waleed Cassis

UB only graduated three seniors, and Cassis was the lone starter of the group, so by default he's a key depature. The Cal State-LA transfer had a stronger junior year, but was UB's clear starter in 2014 and has now moved on to pro soccer with the NASL's Ottawa Fury.

Nicolai Berry and Sean Young

In addition to the seniors, five student-athletes left the program before this season. Of that group, Berry and Young are the biggest hits, but neither are particularly devastating losses. Each would have been a junior this year. Berry had a decent stat line for his four starts, scoring once and compiling four assists, while Young was regularly on the field, starting ten games and appearing in 16.

Key Returners

Russell Cicerone

Cicerone improved from MAC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman to one of the most dangerous players in the conference, showing that he was willing to dribble past anyone and able to score from anywhere on the field. He was the first Bull to score double digit goals since Steve Butcher in 1999, and was the linchpin of the Bulls' successes. He was named first-team All-MAC for the second season in a row - also the first since Butcher - and will be the Bulls' top option once again this season.

Fall Sports Player Preview: Get to know soccer star Russell Cicerone

[Russ] did, after all, lead the Bulls during the spring with 10 goals and nine assists. It's much more likely that rather than the newfound offensive balance chipping into Russ' numbers there's just far more scoring to go around. But you can bet it'll be clear all season long who the engine is for Buffalo.

Marcus Hanson

Hanson is a classic forward who can reel in a long pass and hold up possession until his teammates catch up. He's flashed scoring potential with his summer teams and in spring competition, but hasn't broken out on the scoresheet for UB in the fall yet.

Fall Sports Player Preview: Get to know senior forward Marcus Hanson

In many ways Marcus could be the 2015 Men's Soccer version of Justin Moss: Already a dynamic player who suddenly catches everyone's attention thanks to a slight shift in lineup and strategy. If UB's offense improves like I think it might, the big guy from Mississauga could double his career scoring total with five (or more) goals in his senior year.

Fox Slotemaker

Bar none, the gem of the 2014 freshman class, Fox Slotemaker is simply your prototypical central defender, bringing height and aerial ability along with heads-up physicality to UB's last line of defense.

Fall Sports Player Preview: sophomore defender Fox Slotemaker

When Fox and any center back is playing his best, there aren't many spectacular highlights, just a number of plays that look routine thanks to superior positioning. In that light, Slotemaker's contributions as an underclassman should impress you more. He's the first previewed of UB's defense because, simply, he is the bedrock of the unit. In 2014, as he and his teammates built up experience, UB went from surrendering more than 15 shots/game in the first four contests to just over 12 in the final four matches.

Newcomers

UB brings into the fold a trio of transfers in Scott Doney, Nick Forrester, and Joseph Kuta, joining the group from Marshall, Butler, and Robert Morris, respectively. All three could be in the starting lineup when Buffalo's season begins against Seton Hill, and Doney in particular, a tall center forward, will make a huge impact immediately. Forrester should at a minimum get regular time as a defensive midfielder, while Kuta is in the running with Cameron Hogg for the starting goalie spot.

The freshman class has lost some of its lustre, as Real Madrid Academy product Pablo Fernandez-Paniagua Juez will not join the team. Midfielder Ryan Aspenleiter seems the most likely of the other freshmen to find time this season, while local products Daniel Warner and Hunter Walsh also join the team.

Schedule

28 Aug Seton Hill
30 Aug Belmont
1 Sept Canisius
4 Sept @ UT-RGV
6 Sept @ Houston Baptist
11 Sept @ UMass-Lowell
13 Sept @ Bryant
18 Sept Lafayette
20 Sept Niagara
24 Sept @ Stony Brook
27 Sept Cornell
3 Oct @ St. Bonaventure
9 Oct Akron*
16 Oct West Virginia*
24 Oct @ Northern Illinois*
30 Oct Bowling Green*
7 Nov @ WMU*


Men's soccer in the MAC is one of the stranger sports where only six teams that compete in the conference, therefore the in-conference portion of the schedule for UB is relatively small, and the majority of the schedule is comprised of out-of-conference opponents.

The lads start off their non-exhibition schedule with a three game home stand against Seton Hill, Belmont and local rival Canisius. They then head on a nine day road trip with stops at UTRGV (or the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley -- I thought State University of New York at Buffalo was a mouthful), Houston Baptist, UMass-Lowell, and Bryant. Then, for the remainder of September the lads will remain in New York with three home matches against Lafayette, Niagara, and Cornell, with a trip downstate to Stony Brook to face the Seawolves in between.

Before kicking off the MAC schedule at home against Akron and West Virginia, the Bulls will have their final OOC game at St. Bonaventure. After a small break after the Mountaineers, the Bulls travel to Northern Illinois and round out the regular season with a home match against Bowling Green and an away match at Western Michigan.

Outlook

Riddle's first year at Buffalo saw a 15-man recruiting class, and his second eight more. While some have left the program, this year UB will start the season with just seven players not among that class. For nearly a year now we've been touting the strong finish to last season and the depth of experience up and down the lineup. Buffalo can't be considered a favorite in the conference, but this is the year that experience and depth cultivated over two seasons must take a step forward into a cohesive team.

Late last year, UB started to show some fight. This spring, they showed they could win, by scoring in absolute bunches. Challenging Akron and West Virginia may be a tall order, and looking ahead to Cicerone's senior year a mistake, but UB must take a step forward now to make the most of what will be an absolutely loaded team in 2016. Look for the lads to make their first MAC Tournament since 2011 and declare themselves contenders moving forward.

Go Bulls