By Dan Levin
Senior Staff Writer
In an up and down season for the UMBC men’s soccer team, the Retrievers remain in first place in the America East Conference and with a lot of promise for the remainder of the season.
UMBC looked every part of their top 20 national ranking to start the season, beating three of their first four opponents by a score of 10-2 with a tie against the University of Maryland in the middle.
But then a west coast trip threw UMBC into a mid-season lull as they dropped four of their next five games, including a tie with Loyola at home.
The good news for UMBC – none of that matters.
Sure the national ranking was nice, but now the Retrievers are in the middle of America East Conference play and with four conference games to go, sit in first place at 2-0-1. Two of those four games are at home too.
“Every game in the America East is a big game,” senior midfielder Stephen Ho said after UMBC’s Homecoming win over the University of Hartford.
It has been over two years since UMBC lost a conference game, when they fell at Albany 2-1 on October 10, 2012. This past Saturday the Retrievers made their first trip to Albany since that loss and recorded a tie with the Great Danes on a late score from senior forward Kay Banjo.
UMBC is 12-0-3 in conference games since that loss to Albany in 2012 and are looking for their third straight conference title. A tall task for a program that lost 20 goals from the previous season to graduation.
Banjo has filled that goal-scoring role nicely in his first season for UMBC. He leads the team with six goals and four assists.
But for UMBC to win a third consecutive title, defense will have to be the deciding factor. The Retrievers feature a back line of four seniors in Oumar Ballo, Marquez Fernandez, Jordan Becker and Spencer Williams.
That combination has a lot of experience with one another and has played well all season.
Behind them, UMBC has featured two different goalkeepers following the departure of senior Phil Saunders. Redshirt freshman Phil Breno got most of the playing time in the non-conference schedule. But lately sophomore Billy Heavner has gotten the starting nod from Coach Pete Caringi Jr.
Since inserting Heavner into the starting lineup, the Retrievers are 3-0-1, allowing just three goals in four games.
UMBC has one final non-conference game against the Naval Academy this week before finishing out the season in conference play.