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The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Thompson: Utica’s early postseason exit stems from a one-dimensional style of play, lack of creativity

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The+Pioneers%2C+in+their+season-ending+2-0+defeat+to+Hartwick+College+on+Oct.+28+in+the+first+round+of+the+conference+tournament%2C+registered+more+shots+on+target+than+the+Hawks.
Kayleigh Sturtevant
The Pioneers, in their season-ending 2-0 defeat to Hartwick College on Oct. 28 in the first round of the conference tournament, registered more shots on target than the Hawks.

When Byamungu Mugushu found the back of the net in the 55th minute against SUNY Poly three games into the 2023 season the forward notched his first career intercollegiate hat trick in a seven-goal thriller against the Wildcats on Sept. 9. But after their first conference game head coach Brian Marcantonio said the team’s timing and play inside the final third wasn’t “crispy” enough to capitalize on key opportunities.  

This season Utica (5-9-3, 3-3-2 Empire 8) didn’t live up to expectations. Following their impressive run to the Empire 8 championship game last year, its first appearance since 2013 the consensus was that the team would build upon the consistent theme of winning it established last year. Instead, the Pioneers failed to put together a single back-to-back winning performance at any point throughout this season — on their way to a season-ending defeat at the hands of no. 4 Hartwick College, a team it lost to 3-1 earlier in the season on Oct. 4.  

Their reliance on one player to constantly score goals formed a one-dimensional style of play that the defense easily counteracted. To the opposition: neutralizing Mugushu, the team’s highest goal scorer, the Pioneer’s chances of winning are slim to none (literally). This season in the games won (five) Mugushu scored 50% of the team’s goals (six). And against Hamilton College — a team it hadn’t beaten since 2012 registered just two shots on goal the entire first half after Mugushu was subbed out indefinitely 27 minutes into the game in a crushing 4-0 loss, which stood as their biggest margin of defeat this season. 

“Hamilton put us under a good deal of pressure…,” Marcantonio said the next day. “We were too quick to play the ball long and forfeit possession, which limited our opportunities to go forward.”  

Marcantonio said the lack of service the forwards had been receiving up to that point in the season was a “collective issue.” Their deteriorating non-conference performances however were concerning from the get-go. In games against SUNYAC opponents, the Pioneers registered 40 shots on goal, 37 shots fewer than in 2022.

But signs of their inability to improve and struggles as a unit showed after their 3-0 loss to SUNY Cortland on Sept. 10. Not only did Utica finish with two shots on goal compared to 19 from the Red Dragons they continued to capitulate defensively conceding 10 goals in four games, second worst amongst conference counterparts four weeks into the season. 

“We just need to have a more complete performance,” Marcantonio said on Sept. 18 five days after a 3-1 loss to SUNY Oneonta. “It’s been a lot of good halves in matches, but [we] haven’t sustained our possession game and the defensive focus for a full 90 [minutes].” 

While those matchups served as a way to prepare for in-conference opponents, their struggles overlap in conference play. Amongst the three sole forwards listed on the roster, only one outside of Mugushu managed to score a single goal all year. In the Empire 8, the Pioneers managed more or equal to the same amount of shots on target as their opponents in all nine conference games — they won just three — with their most (20) against Keuka College, a team that won only one game this season.

With limited options up front and 16 fewer assists compared to 2022 their production in the final third was stagnant but mostly nonexistent. Subsequently, their first-round exit on Oct. 28 in a rematch against the Hawks wasn’t solely based on their indiscipline during the game which saw four players getting yellow cards and three being ejected but stemmed from their lack of creativity in finding ways to score and create opportunities throughout the season.

Going forward the team needs another reliable goalscorer to complement Mugushu next season — if the sticker decides to return for his fifth year of eligibility — to diversify their frontline personnel and give teams and defenses different looks to think about and plan for. 

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About the Contributors
Mickale Thompson, Editor-In-Chief
Class Year: Senior Dual Major: Communication and Media & Business Management Previous Position: Contributing Writer (2021), Staff Writer (2021), Special Assignments Reporter (2022), Features Editor (2023), News Editor (2023)
Kayleigh Sturtevant, Multimedia Editor
Class Year: Senior Major: Sports Management Previous Position: Multimedia Editor (Fall 2023)

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