As COVID put a halt to sports in 2020, the Belmont men’s soccer team now prepares to take the pitch for the first time since the fall of 2019.
Belmont is predicted to place in the bottom third of the conference, but this team is no stranger to adversity.
“Preseason things are preseason things, it doesn’t tell the story,” head coach David Costa said. “For us, our guys know how much different we are now from fall 2019. We’ve definitely improved the players we had, as well as added more talent to the squad.”
In the 2019-20 season, the Bruins didn’t perform as well as they had hoped.
After struggling in the regular season Belmont finished at sixth on the Southern Conference table. However, the team channeled the fighting spirit of a bruin in the postseason conference tournament.
As a six seed, Belmont beat Virginia Military Institute in the first round 4-0.
They then proceeded to upset number three seed East Tennessee State University 2-0, in the conference quarterfinal.
Unfortunately, Belmont’s run came to an end at the tournament semifinal, where the Bruins fell short 3-2 in a heartbreaking, overtime loss against second-seeded UNC Greensboro.
Despite the season’s several losses, there were a few outstanding individual performances. Junior Niccolo Dagnoni had a breakout season, leading the Bruins in both goals and assists.
Dagnoni now holds the program record for the most single-season goals and assists and was also honored as a member of SoCon’s 2019 All-Conference First Team.
Belmont’s head coach didn’t have a bad year either. In Costa’s first year in charge of the Bruins, he led the team the farthest it had ever been since the program joined the Southern Conference.
Yet, with all the recent success, the Bruins are projected to finish sixth in the regular season by the SoCon coaches poll
Being an underdog is nothing new to this group, and the team will surely look to outshine the preseason expectations. Despite their low ranking, Coach Costa is unconcerned with the preseason polling, he said.
The team has also struggled with preseason conditioning due in most part to the long break COVID-19 forced upon all students. However, Costa is pleased with the way his team has worked around the pandemic’s barriers in order to stay in shape on their own accord.
“We were in a different place than where we left off in the spring of 2020,” said Costa. “We got guys trying to find training wherever they can because a lot of places are under restrictions. But I was very pleased in January with the fitness levels the guys came back with”
Costa’s goal for this season revolves around his connection with his team and the solidarity of his players.
“I just want as many days together as we can get, if that means a conference championship or if that means an NCAA tournament. These guys have lofty goals internally, and it’s great when your team is already setting those for themselves.”
Tactically, Costa says his team played more counter-attacking football last season, and in training, he wants to build off of last year’s more defensive transition play in order to improve the team’s offense.
“We were always organized defensively, and we will continue to always be organized defensively. When you don’t give away goals you’re in a position to win,” he said.
“We are becoming a more proactive team instead of reactive. We want to be on the front foot in games; we want to be in the attacking half more frequently in possession and creating more goal-scoring chances.”
Expect to see a more aggressive Belmont team this season, eager to control possession and dictate the pace of every game.
In addition to the preseason poll, the SoCon coaches also selected a preseason all-conference team. Among the eleven players is Belmont’s Dagnoni who has received this honor for the second year in a row.
Dagnoni, although very successful on an individual level, is humble in his solo accomplishments.
“Obviously getting honors is a big achievement from an individual standpoint, but I’m staying more focused on what we can achieve as a team. It doesn’t change the way I approach the games or how I approach practice. I’d rather win an award as a team at the end of the season, than an individual award before the season even starts.”
Regarding personal goals, Dagnoni doesn’t have a lot of them; he just wants to score them.
“In order to be the best, you’ve got to believe that you are the best, and that’s where I’m trying to get,” he said. “So I definitely want to be the league’s top goalscorer. I just want to score goals. That’s what I like to do, and that’s what I think brings the best for this team.”
Dagnoni is excited for the season to start, and he is eager to return to the pitch to see how far this season can take the team. Costa speaks on behalf of the team’s readiness saying the mentality the team has going into the regular season is, “We get to play.”
Belmont has an exciting season in front of them, where they will be looking to build off of last season’s successes and failures alike.
The Bruins’ road begins at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, on Feb. 21. And it promises to be an exciting season.
This article written by David Pang.