From the moment Seton Hall men’s soccer coach Gerson Echeverry stepped foot on Seton Hall’s campus as an 18-year-old, his goal has been to win the Big East regular season, postseason and compete in the NCAA Tournament.
And while his teams recently have fallen short of such lofty aspirations, the 2017 Pirates revealed signs in non-conference play that they are capable of the program’s first postseason berth since 2012.
“I think this group has a different mentality,” Echeverry said. “And I think between their skill, mentality and their fight, we like our chances.”
The Pirates are not just talking the talk about a new mentality this year, but they are walking the walk; from a 2016 season where Seton Hall did not come back to win a game when conceding first, to a 2017 season where already the Pirates have erased two deficits to earn all three points.
The two come-from-behind wins were part of a week that embodied the Pirates first three-game win streak since 2011. Fast forward one week, though, and the Pirates are on the back end of a 0-3 week.
The Pirates can take lessons from their first conference game on Sept. 16, a wildly intense affair against St. John’s. In the match, two Pirate players, Spencer Burkhardt and Nick Najera, were sent off for arguing with the referee after a crunching tackle along the sideline.
“When he showed me the color I didn’t expect, me complaining about it or just going off and making things worse is not the way to handle it,” Burkhardt said. “I would say we could control ourselves a little better, it’s something we as a team have talked about and we’re going to move forward and try to do a little bit better.”
While the ejection was out of character for a mature and level-headed Burkhardt, the intensity and physicality that came to define those 90 minutes will continue to be a staple as the Pirates move forward into the stretch run of Big East competition.
“[The Big East] is just more physical, more demanding; skill-wise, athletically, you come off the field drained,” Burkhardt said. “And not saying you shouldn’t come off the field drained with any of those non-conference games, especially if you’re playing a really good team. But it’s just that extra mindset [in the Big East] that ‘these games matter to go into playoffs.’”
The Pirates may be going into Big East play with little expectation from those around them; Echeverry knows firstly how talented the conference is.
“The records don’t matter, because you see there’s all sorts of upsets,” Echeverry said. “Teams that are ranked in the top five at times and get upset with a team that maybe hasn’t won a game. And that’s because our conference, the difference is so minimal from first to being one of the bottom three.”
This was put on display last year on senior night when a one-conference-win Seton Hall team stunned a Xavier team that was destined for the postseason.
While to some it may seem difficult to comprehend how a four-win team can make the jump to competing for a spot among the conference’s best, the Pirates know that with a new mentality and key additions, they have the chance to play beyond what is regular.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII