Two days ago, Boston College men’s soccer lost in the Elite Eight, ending its deepest run into the NCAA tournament in over a decade.
While most of the nation’s top soccer programs had already packed their bags in preparation for a long offseason, head coach Ed Kelly’s unranked team once again laced up its boots on Saturday to attempt a third straight upset on collegiate soccer’s most prominent stage. And the Eagles fought. They were still alive.
Even though the eventual 1-0 loss to No. 6 Syracuse University sent players and fans home heartbroken, it was only the end of the beginning. Bolstered by their 12 freshmen, the Eagles are entering a new era. And I’m just in time for it.
Growing up in San Francisco, I was cursed with perennial losing seasons for most of my childhood, until recently when I was spoiled with the success of my hometown sports teams. My beloved Giants methodically brought home the World Series trophy every other year during high school, while my 49ers would complement the hardware with deep postseason runs of their own. In most rewarding fashion, I watched the Warriors from the beating heart of Oracle Arena as they endured the growing pains of Don Nelson, matured under Mark Jackson, and transformed into the Association’s undeniable champs under Steve Kerr.
Eagle statues aside, BC wasn’t as golden at first for me. The football team’s well-known woes seemed to sap every ounce of athletic fervor from my veins. The once-celebrated pummeling of Howard University soon faded from memory as we realized the FCS was total BS. It didn’t help that the women’s volleyball and soccer teams didn’t have the talent to make postseason runs, either.
Thankfully, covering ACC soccer has made me forget about the shortcomings of other sports. With BC men’s soccer, we saw a team with flair, youth, untapped talent, and chemistry—a team where the sidelines were buzzing with celebrations, not filled with lowered heads and broken Steve Addazio headsets.
The winning ways of the Eagles provided me with a perfect medium—a sports team that seemed to toe the line between average and dominant, one that welcomed me into its small yet avid fan base.
Here was a group that, despite being counted out at the beginning of the season—the freshman recruiting class was ranked 46th, at best—rattled off five huge victories over Top 25 opponents. Despite sporting the youngest roster in the ACC, it held its own with four conference wins. Finishing the regular season ranked 15th in RPI, which measures performance and strength of schedule, BC still didn’t receive a seeding for the NCAA tournament. But being overlooked and underrated are definitely two prerequisites for my sports teams of choice.
Perhaps the Eagles prefer it that way, too. They impressed nonetheless, most notably scoring a historic upset against No. 2 Georgetown University in a stellar PK shootout that finished with a Len Zeugner bar-down game-winner (and a less-than-stellar celebration—see Simon Enstrom’s GW goals vs. Boston University, the University of Vermont, or the University of South Florida for tips).
Junior midfielder Zeiko Lewis emerged as one of the quickest playmakers in the country. Hometown hero Trevor Davock made headlines with his nose for the goal, and Enstrom, a fellow freshman, injected a European-style feel to the Eagles’ offense en route to a team-best 22 points. Fifth-year defender Atobra Ampadu stood out down the stretch, recording game-saving slide tackles and doing it all with a smile on his face. He complemented Zeugner, a 6-foot-4 center back, who formed a one-man brick wall against the Hoyas last week to lift BC into the Elite Eight.
Together, the lineup returned BC Athletics to the national spotlight, even if the attention was brief and small. All signs point to the impending national recognition of the men’s soccer team being routine as the fresh crop of Kelly’s foreign and local recruits grow in the system. Unlike football and basketball, where trusting the process seems more like a depressing annual pastime instead of a hopeful sentiment, men’s soccer made significant strides against elite competition.
In a sports climate where the macho bravado of the Patriots has taken over the underdog culture of the infamously drought-ridden Red Sox, I have, at times, felt left out. I needed a team with a magnetic identity.
The comebacks, the late-game heroics, even the stunning overtime losses of 2015 BC men’s soccer—they all have made me feel at home in a chaotic Boston sports culture. In my desperate quest for a local sports team to call my own, I found an answer in Ed Kelly’s melting pot. The Swedish swag, Ghanaian goal-scoring, and Bermudan braggadocio combined for a unique and exciting flavor that made the team so exciting to watch. But the season-ending loss has left me with one lingering, serious question:
When can I watch them again?
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor