by Tom Utescher

Preseason training trips don’t get better than this. Before assembling for their first official practice last Thursday, 18 members of the men’s soccer team at Chestnut Hill College went on an eight-day jaunt to England, taking in two semi-final contests at the Olympic Games and playing several “friendly” matches against British club teams.

Chestnut Hill College soccer coach Keith Cappo observes his squad on the opening day of practice last week. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The Griffins were in the stands for the France vs. Japan women’s semifinal in London’s Wembley Stadium, and for the men’s semifinal bout between Brazil and South Korea.

The men’s match took place at Old Trafford, home pitch of the storied Manchester United franchise, and the CHC players also visited Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium. Of course, sightseeing and shopping in London were also on the itinerary.

“First off, it was a great team-building trip,” said Keith Cappo, the Penn Charter graduate who is entering his third season as Chestnut Hill’s head coach. “For that whole week we were doing everything together. Another important aspect was for our guys to experience the soccer culture over there; their mentality and approach to the game, how hard they work, how physical the game is.

“A lot of our players have been fans of these English teams for years, and now they got to see where they play and practice first-hand,” the coach continued. “I think we progressively improved as we played our matches, and the guys gained a new appreciation for being able to be a part of this sport. They also enjoyed the social aspect after the matches, talking with their players.”

Cappo brought along 16 field players and two goalies, and the team squared off against Ashton Athletic Football Club in Liverpool, Harborough Town Football Club, and Lutterworth Athletic Football Club. At several of the clubs, coaches explained how they train their young players step-by-step, starting at the age of five.

Senior Mike Goldstein, a starter in goal since his freshman year, related that when the Griffins actually took the field, “The one thing we noticed right away was how physical they play over there. It took us off-guard and the first five minutes we really got knocked around, but then our guys showed their character, and matched what they were doing.”

The CHC keeper said, “There was a very professional atmosphere around those clubs, and even some of their younger guys are getting paid to play. It was fun to talk with them after the games and compare the way the game is played in England and back home.”

Cappo didn’t mind his players having to endure a few bumps and bruises.

“That physical aspect is something we’ve struggled with even in our games here,” he noted. “This really forced our guys to step up and improve in that part of the game, and I’m hoping some of that will carry over to our season. The other part of it is that their officials let you play more, let the games flow. The refs we had were all superb; they view their job as facilitating the game, not interfering with it.”

Goldstein said, “I think it really all hit me when I got back, that I’d gotten to see all of these amazing places I’d heard about. I remember when we were at Arsenal’s stadium and watching Bobby Stocklin [a CHC junior forward], who is a huge Arsenal fan. His face just lit up – he was so happy to be there.”

Turning to the college season ahead, Cappo is looking for goal productions from forwards like Stocklin to compensate for the graduation loss of Scottish native Gavin Reid, an all-conference player who finished with 27 points in 2011. Returning attackers include seniors Darryl Richardson (three goals/three assists) and Mark Pugliese (two goals, three assists), and junior Mushe Wamulume (three goals, two assists).

The offense will also get a boost from the return of senior Anthony O’Connor, who red-shirted last fall after getting hurt very early in the season. The Griffins will also see junior Ross Garabedian back in action; he too, sat out the 2011 campaign for medical reasons. He’ll be part of a defensive unit incorporating juniors Brooks Mirabella and Darius Gbunblee and sophomore Dave Schlentz. Senior Mark Pugliese and junior Chris Wilson will bring a lot of experience and skill to the CHC midfield.

Out of the seven new players on the Chestnut Hill roster this season, five are junior college transfer students who should be ready to contribute immediately.

Outside of formidable opponents in Chestnut Hill’s own Central Atlantic College Conference (where defending champ Nyack College in suburban New York has most of its top talent returning), Cappo has scheduled some Division II competition from the Pa. State Athletic Conference, such as Shippensburg, Lock Haven, and California of Pa. West Virginia’s Shepherd University is also a new addition to the agenda.

A few more wins this fall could push CHC into winning territory in the CACC, where the team went 4-7 last season, and also in terms of its overall record, which was 7-10-1 in 2011. Following a tournament at Shippensburg, the Griffins will open up at home against New York’s Mercy College at 4:00 PM on September 4, at Victory Field in Lafayette Hill.