NYU soccer 2021 recap: rekindling the love of the game

The NYU soccer program’s emotionally charged return to the pitch is shown through the resiliency of the women’s season and the dramatic nature of the men’s season.

Oliver+Kleban+is+a+senior+on+the+men%E2%80%99s+soccer+team.+NYU%E2%80%99s+student-athletes+returned+to+practice+and+competitions+after+experiencing+NYU+and+NCAA+COVID-19+restrictions+during+the+2020-21+school+year.+%28Image+courtesy+of+NYU+Athletics%29

Oliver Kleban is a senior on the men’s soccer team. NYU’s student-athletes returned to practice and competitions after experiencing NYU and NCAA COVID-19 restrictions during the 2020-21 school year. (Image courtesy of NYU Athletics)

Luca Richman, Contributing Writer

With COVID-19 and the accompanying often-suffocating NYU and NCAA restrictions beginning to recede, NYU’s student athletes returned to practice and competition in full force at the start of the fall. For NYU soccer, the trips to practice at Pier 40 and the rides to home games at Gaelic Park in the Bronx resumed after a year off, and both the men’s and women’s teams had high expectations for the season ahead. Even before goals were discussed, there was a palpable sense of excitement about being a team again. 

For some, like Stern senior Oliver Kleban on the men’s team, the return to practice and competition marked his final season with the team.

“As soon as we showed up for preseason, I got the feeling that everyone on the team was absolutely buzzing to be back on the pitch,” Kleban said. “Whether it was training or a game, the guys were committed to competing and working their hardest to improve themselves and the team as a whole.”

Kelli Keady is a sophomore on the women’s soccer team. (Image courtesy of NYU Athletics)

On the other hand, for Gallatin sophomore Kelli Keady on the women’s team, this season represented the first time the group could get together in a more formal and structured setting, having not done much the previous school year. 

“Transitioning from a few socially distanced, masked-up, non-contact practices with half of the team to a full season this year, the energy was electric,” Keady said. “The pandemic felt isolating and coming from playing a team sport your whole life to quarantines and lack of team practices, this season was so refreshing. Everyone was fired up to be out there together, but also off the field.”

Even as a sophomore, Keady said that there were many new elements about being a student athlete at NYU.

“We all completed our freshman year, but most of us hadn’t even attended an in-person class,” Keady said. “So when we started playing soccer, there was some pressure to know how things worked and what we should be doing, but it was also our first real semester of in-person school with soccer on top of that.”

For the men’s team, this season was marked by dominance. The Violets played to an overall 11-6-1 record, led by LS sophomore Arkan Tahsildaroglu, who scored 13 goals over the course of the season. The team went 4-3-0 in conference play among the University Athletic Association conference teams — good enough to land the team a spot in the NCAA tournament. In the first round of the tournament, after a weather delay due to stormy skies in New London, Connecticut, the Violets emerged victorious in a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win against Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. A 3-0 loss in the second round to Connecticut College ended the Violets’ season, but after a year-long break, it was a run to be proud of that also offered some good postseason experience. 

“Early in the season we set goals to make the tournament and compete for the UAA title,” Kleban said. “We accomplished both of those goals and we came close to surpassing them. We came up short in the UAA race after losing a couple close games down the stretch which was disappointing, but we had a real chance all year.”

The women’s season began with difficulties after two road losses in their first three games, including a 4-0 loss to The College of New Jersey. The Violets rebounded with strong results but overall went 8-7-1 and 1-5-1 in conference play, which ended their season earlier than they would have liked. LS junior Gabriella Funk led the team with six goals during the season. 

Regardless of the results on the pitch, the biggest takeaway from the season across the program is the shared joy in simply playing the game. Kleban said that simply being out on the field was what he missed most.

“Being on the field with every member of my class to finish our final game together and knowing that the future was bright for this team when we stepped off — it was all I could ask for to close out a career,” Kleban said.

Keady shared a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think a lot of us realized how important soccer was, and being away from it for so long and then coming back with so much energy and excitement — we were successful in the ways we needed to be,” Keady said. “I have a lot of pride and love for NYU Athletics and I am incredibly excited for the next few years with the team.”

Off-season training is underway and will continue through the winter and spring. As the class of 2022 graduates and class of 2026 recruits are ushered in, the Violets will look ahead to the 2022 season, looking to build on a lively and competitive 2021 campaign.

Contact Luca Richman at [email protected]