Looking back on the 2017 UNCW men’s soccer season

Lanre Badmus, Staff Writer

Another season of UNC Wilmington men’s soccer is officially in the books. After starting the season climbing high in the national rankings, the team stuttered to the finish line, yet still wound up reaching the second round of the NCAA Division I College Cup for the first time since 2014.

The Seahawks, led by coach Aidan Heaney in his 17th year, began the season brightly, winning seven out of their first eight games and being ranked as high as No. 15 for several weeks. UNCW soared as a result of playing tough non-conference games against nationally-renowned opponents North Carolina (1-0 win on Sept. 1) and Virginia (2-1 overtime loss on Sept. 4).

Players such as sophomore forward Phillip Goodrum, freshman defender Hjalmar Ekdal, freshman forward Emil Elveroth were hallmarks of the Seahawks’ national recognition by winning Colonial Athletic Association player of the week and rookie of the week honors.

However, the team sputtered after the bright start, losing five of their final eight regular season games – including four straight – before finishing their regular season with a 1-0 home victory over Northeastern on Oct. 28. That result left the Seahawks with a 10-6 (5-3 CAA) record, which enabled them to finish second in the CAA.

The Seahawks’ second-place finish in the CAA gave them a bye into the conference semifinals in Harrisonburg, V.A. on Nov. 10, where they faced the third-seeded Charleston Cougars in a rematch of the 2-1 come-from-behind victory for Charleston at UNCW Soccer Stadium a month earlier.

This time, it would be UNCW winning, equalizing through redshirt senior forward Julio Moncada before Elveroth’s golden goal in overtime sent the Seahawks through to the Nov. 12 final.

UNCW went up against the fifth-seeded William & Mary Tribe, who had taken care of fourth-seeded Hofstra in the conference quarterfinals before upsetting the top-seeded – and tournament hosts – James Madison in the semifinals. The Seahawks had previously defeated the Tribe 2-1 away from home during the regular season, and it looked like it would be a similar result at halftime after Moncada bombed in a free kick to give UNCW the lead just before the break.

However, W&M came out of the interval scoring four unanswered goals courtesy of a hat-trick from conference player of the year Antonio Bustamante. Junior midfielder Matt Gianfortone pulled a consolation goal back in the final minute, but it was not enough and the Seahawks had to settle for conference tournament runners-up.

Despite falling short of their goal of winning the conference tournament, the strength of schedule helped the Seahawks receive an at-large bid to the national tournament from the NCAA Selection Committee. It was UNCW’s third-ever NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament qualification and their first appearance since 2014.

The team hosted Presbyterian College in the first round of the NCAA College Cup on Nov. 17. Despite dominating the proceedings and controlling the tempo, the Seahawks struggled to find an opening in regulation play. However, the deadlock was finally broken just 47 seconds into the first extra time period when a golden goal from Moncada sent UNCW through to the second round of the national tournament, maintaining its record of doing so at each attempt.

In the second round, the team traveled to Cary to face a familiar foe – the No. 3-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. Similar to the CAA final, UNCW came into the matchup having already defeated their opponents in the regular season.

Also, like the CAA final, the result was different from the regular season encounter.

The Seahawks held firm and kept the game scoreless throughout the first half, but two quick goals at the start of the second period from UNC’s Jelani Pieters and Mauricio Pineda threatened to unravel the game completely.

Moncada made things interesting with a goal in the 74th minute, but it wound being only a consolation as UNCW’s season came to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Chapel Hill. The team finished the season with a 12-8 record.

Goodrum and Moncada both paced the Seahawks with seven goals in the 2017 season, with Goodrum also in a tie with junior midfielder Ben Fisher for the assist lead with five. Redshirt junior Ryan Cretens played every minute in goal this season, finishing with seven shutouts and 1.13 goals against average.

In addition, Seahawks players won many end-of-season accolades. Ekdal, in addition to being named the third CAA Rookie of the Year in program history, was named to the All-CAA First Team along with Goodrum, as well as the conference’s All-Rookie Team.

Junior midfielders Fisher and Joel Bylander, as well as senior midfielder Kalvin Kromer and sophomore defender Mark Lindstrom earned All-CAA Second Team honors. Elveroth, who scored five goals during the season, was rewarded with spots on the All-Rookie Team alongside his fellow Swedish countryman Ekdal and a spot on the All-CAA Third Team.

Overall, UNC Wilmington men’s soccer can look back with pride on its 2017 campaign. The Seahawks may not have brought home the silverware they were hoping for, but their performance in their two NCAA Tournament games proved that they could give the very best teams a run for their money.

Most importantly, the Seahawks finished the 2017 season by making their university proud.

Staff Writer Lanre Badmus can be found on Twitter @LonnyBadmon . Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to uncwseahawksports@gmail.com. For video updates from The Seahawk, subscribe to our YouTube channel.