Following its best season in history, the Merrimack men’s soccer program is 6-2-0 with nine international players on the roster.
NORTH ANDOVER – Despite coming off arguably its best season in program history, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Merrimack College men’s soccer team as it entered the 2013 regular season.
The Warriors made history last fall, qualifying for the program’s first ever NCAA tournament berth and furthermore winning its first tournament game in the opening round. The Warriors won the Northeast-10 regular season title on the last day of the season and advanced all the way to the NE-1o tournament championship game.
However last spring, a good chunk of that record-setting roster graduated, leaving behind a program on the rise but with plenty of question marks.
The Warriors haven’t had a hard time answering them, though.
Through eight games Merrimack, which was ranked No. 17 nationally in the preseason, is 6-2 and the Warriors are now 21-6-2 in their last 29 games dating back to last season.
“Last year definitely gave us a lot of confidence,” said junior captain Michael Buraczynski. “Maybe there were some questions before, but we knew after last season that we could play with anyone. Doing what we did last year definitely made us all a little hungrier in the offseason getting workouts in; it just makes everyone work a little bit harder.”
Merrimack head coach Tony Martone has seen a lot of players come through in his 32 years on the Warriors’ sideline, but even he is sometimes stunned at the work ethic and competitiveness of this team, specifically at practices.
“We are a close group,” he said. “Having that chemistry is definitely a big reason why we have been able to have success the last two years; also though, these guys push each other all the time. Even (last week at practice), we’re into the season now but they’re always competing for something even in practice. That spirit, that work ethic, that has definitely helped make us the team we are. They keep their eyes on the prize; they’re very focused.”
On paper, chemistry might not be the easiest thing to come by considering the influx of international students on Merrimack’s roster. In all, there are nine players from outside the United States on the team, including players from Mexico, India, Brazil, Sweden, Venezuela, the U.K. and Germany.
Buraczynski says the international flair has never once created a barrier. In fact, quite the contrary.
“I’m sure those guys were a little nervous first coming over here,” he said. “I think it’s great. I never had a chance to play with a lot of international players before and they play a little bit of a different style which I think helps us on the field and then off the field you get to learn about all these different cultures and how soccer is such a big part of it; some of the guys really like telling stories their home and it’s cool to learn stuff like that.”
He continued, “I’ve played soccer my whole life but for a lot of these guys soccer literally is their life. They come from places where the sport means everything.”
The addition of international talents has been a welcome addition both on and off the field, Martone says.
“Those guys have played a lot of soccer,” he said. “They’re all very smart too, on and off the field. I think because they’ve played so much soccer they just have the ability to always make good decisions. It’s rare to see one of those guys makes a mistake because they weren’t thinking.
“Off the field, you look at their grades and they’re some of our best students. Not that our American players don’t, but these kids really are thankful for the opportunity to not only come here and player soccer at a high level, but to get a degree.
“That’s just one of the things we look for when we’re recruiting our players,” Martone said.
Much of Merrimack’s recruiting internationally is due to Martone’s longevity.
“I’ve been here a long time and you make a lot of connections,” he said. “We have alumni all over the world, which has definitely helped me make some of those connections.”
On the field, the Warriors have sights set high. Oftentimes the hardest part about success is following it up with more of the same; the Warriors realize that.
“We definitely still feel like we have a lot to prove still,” Buraczynski said. “As good as last year was we lost in both tournaments we were in at the end of the year, so the goal from the beginning was to give ourselves a chance to win one.
“Last year was great, it was great to be a part of it, but we need to make sure that last year is not just a one-time thing. We need to work to make sure we’re in a position to compete like that again.”