What to Know About Villanova Men’s Soccer this Season

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

The Villanova Wildcats men’s soccer team is looking to build off one of the best years in program history. 

The 2021 fall campaign included a run to the semi-finals of the Big East Championship, as well as the program’s first-ever win in the Men’s College Cup. 2022’s campaign could include an even deeper postseason run for the ‘Cats, as a very similar roster will return to the Main Line in the fall.

Head coach Tom Carlin and his staff will have to manage four departures from 2021’s roster. Most notable of those departures are goalkeeper Carson Williams and forward Seidu Shamsudeen. The other departures from the roster are goalkeeper Kyle Winquist and defender David Ogbonna. 

The most immediate point of alarm for the Wildcats is the keeper position, as Carson Williams  holds the record for most shutouts in a Wildcat career with 20 and started 19 of the team’s 21 games last season. However, Kent Dickey returns as a grad student and will likely anchor the backstop position for the season. Dickey filled in for Williams in three games last season after Williams was shown red in the second half against Penn State. In 198 minutes of play, Dickey gave up just one goal, recording two shutouts in his two starts. Dickey is arguably the most important graduate returner for the ‘Cats heading into the 2022 season, as the 6-foot-4 keeper provides talent, albeit somewhat unproven talent, to the Wildcats’ goal frame. 

There are two new freshman keeper recruits on Carlin’s roster: Geoffrey Halpern and Rafael Ponce De Leon. Ponce De Leon, who hails from Pennington, New Jersey, recorded 30 total shutouts over his four years as the starting keeper at The Pennington School. He led his team to three Mercer County championships over his high school career and was named to the 2021 high school All-American East team.

Halpern comes to the Main Line all the way from The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was named Georgia’s 1A Private Region Player of the Year. It’s likely that one of these two new keepers will see some game action throughout the course of the year, but which keeper will be behind Dickey remains to be seen. 

Other new additions to the squad include freshman defender Foday Bangura and graduate transfer midfielder Tomer Drimmer. Bangura, out of Greencastle, Pennsylvania, was a four-year starter and two-year captain at Mercersburg Academy. Drimmer, a native of Israel, started in all 14 of the Hartford Hawks’ contests in 2021. 

Defensively, not much is expected to change for the 2022 campaign, as the roster retains all of its key defensive pieces. The Wildcats get back Victor Benediktsson and Anthony Cousins Jr. for their senior seasons. Cousins and Benediktsson anchored a Villanova defense that recorded nine shutouts (tying a single-season record for the program) and boasted a 1.14 goals against average. 

Benediktsson led the Wildcats in minutes played last year, logging 1,961 minutes on the pitch. Jack Bonas also returns to kick off his junior season. Bonas appeared in 20 of the team’s games last season, starting in 19 of them. Bonas and Benediktsson pair as a talented duo of center backs. The Wildcats’ defense will also benefit from an extra year from utility midfielder Dylan Middlebrook, who is back as a graduate. Middlebrook can fill a variety of roles both in the midfield and defense.

Carlin and Co. retain the entirety of 2021’s midfield, while also adding the experienced Drimmer to the mix. Standout Josh Belluz returns for his senior season after a campaign that saw him named to the 2021 Big East All-Tournament team. When Belluz went down with an injury midway through 2021, the ‘Cats went 1-5-0 without him. Belluz has started for the Wildcats since his freshman year in 2019, making him a strong veteran presence to lead the midfield. Gray Ricca and Anthony Dragisics also return for their senior seasons, giving Carlin a wealth of experience to choose from when picking his midfield. German native Dominic Cyriacks also returns as a strong option for the ‘Cats in the middle.

The attacking front is where Villanova arguably boasts its most talent. Between the gifted Akinjide Awujo starting his junior season after showing great promise in 2021 and phenom Balthi Saunders entering his sophomore year, the Wildcats’ attack should be fierce. However, the leader of this team’s attack needs to be senior Lyam MacKinnon. After a big year in 2021 that earned him a spot on the Big East All-Conference Second Team, MacKinnon will hope for another big year. Whether he’ll be able to best his 22-point 2021 season is a big question, but with MacKinnon’s talent and work ethic, it certainly seems like a nine-or-ten-goal season would be possible for the Swiss native. The attack will certainly feel the loss of Seidu Shamsudeen, but by far should have enough talent to maintain its level of production. 

With almost all of the pieces from last year’s campaign returning, what should the expectations be for the Wildcats going into 2022? A return to the NCAA College Cup is possible, and some might go so far as to say it is likely, but potentially an even loftier goal for the ‘Cats is a Big East title. The Wildcats have never made it to the Championship Final of the Big East tournament. A run to claim the Big East crown would almost certainly involve defeating Georgetown. The Hoyas are a consistently dominant force in the world of collegiate soccer and have claimed five of the last seven Big East titles. Villanova almost took the Hoyas to extra time in last year’s Big East tournament but the Wildcats allowed a goal in the 89th minute, allowing Georgetown to advance to the tournament final. 

Beating the Hoyas certainly should be a goal for the ‘Cats, as the last time the Wildcats beat the Hoyas was in 2007. A win against Penn State at home would also be a nice addition to the campaign, as the Nittany Lions rank as Villanova’s toughest out-of-conference foe. 

Regardless of how those two matchups play out, the Wildcats should be primed for a serious run at the Big East crown. Coming up short of an NCAA College Cup appearance would be a disappointment to the Wildcats. Hosting a College Cup game, which involves being a top-32 team in the eyes of the selection committee, certainly appears to be in reach for a talented ‘Cats squad.