TOWSON, Md. - There’s no truth to the rumor that Tiger men's soccer coach Frank Olszewski is running a day care center these days over at the Tiger Soccer Complex.
But, with nine underclassmen in the most recent starting lineup, Olszewski’s team is certainly closer to sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving than dining with the grown-ups.
And they seem to be edging ever closer to having some adult-style success, the 1-5-1 record to date notwithstanding.
“It’s a young group,” Olszewski said of his roster. “They work hard. They’re enthusiastic. They’ve just been unlucky right now with some of the results. It’s a group that, if they stick with it, things will turn around for them.”
Indeed, the Tigers have only been beaten by more than two goals in one game this year. They held nationally-ranked New Mexico to just two goals on the road in the season opener.
Last Saturday, Towson dropped a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at home to a powerful William & Mary team when the Tribe scored in the 65th minute. A Tiger goal that would have tied the score was disallowed on a controversial offside call.
It’s the kind of break that, when it goes against you in a season where breaks have been few, could plunge a young team into a downward spiral and wound their confidence.
And yet, Olszewski said, spirits were boundless at a Monday practice ahead of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. home match with Hofstra.
“It wasn’t that, ‘OK, here we go again,’” said Olszewski. “It was ‘OK, it’s time to get out there again.’”
The season has been a quest to balance the inevitable growing pains inherent with a roster with 15 freshmen and sophomores with the need to win or at least to see signs of success. It’s been a challenge, to be sure.
“It’s obviously a process for any team,” said Olszewski, who is in his 30th season as Towson’s men’s soccer coach. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s this team here or any other team. It’s definitely a process that we’re going through when you’re not getting the result and you feel like you’re right there.
“With young people, it’s instant success and getting your wins," he added. "I think they know that they’re close and they’re making strides.”
Olszewski said the Tigers are showing improvement in areas that might not now lead to wins, but will pay off. For instance, the defense’s coordination is much improved since the beginning of the season, the coach said, to the point that there aren’t as many large gaps in the protection.
It is a small step, perhaps, but a measurable one forward that a young team needs to see and experience, Olszewski said.
“Those kinds of things are starting to happen more frequently now,” said Olszewski on Monday. “The message of certain things that you said and you expect from older players, it takes a few more times and a few more messages need to go through. They need to see it work in games.”
Despite their youth, the Tigers aren’t without some leadership, even with a recent injury to Perry Hall native Josh Spivey, who is one of just three seniors on the roster.
Goalkeeper John Steele has been exceptional in the nets and led the Colonial Athletic Association in saves at one point. Olszewski said Steele, an England native, has had to walk a fine line in leading the team.
“[Steele] understands that he has to have a firm hand, but it’s not a veteran group,” said Olszewski. “So, there is a time to get into people and there’s a time to put your arm around them. He knows you’ve got to be firm, but you have to put your arms around them a little bit more. He’s doing a pretty good job.”
Likewise, midfielder Javier Bermudez Roa, a native of Spain, has become the team facilitator, Olszewski, and has honed the skill of bringing players together to focus them on remaining positive.
Sophomore Olakunle Banjo has become the engine who drives the offense. His two goals and 16 shots lead the Tigers despite drawing extra attention from defenders after his CAA All-Rookie freshman season.
“We tried to prepare him that he is going to be a marked man,” said Olszewski. “That’s the step he’s taking right now. That’s going to be a little bit on his shoulders. The question is whether he can deal with some of those frustrations.”
In a nutshell, that will be the test of the callow Tigers for the remainder of the season - to take the inevitable mistakes of their youth and turn them into productive moves forward.
It’s a tall order, but then again, any move to the adults table requires no less.