The roster of the Hofstra men’s soccer team is filled with players from Europe, and senior defender Harri Hawkins of England may be the best of the lot.
“I think he is one of top left center backs in the country,” says Richard Nuttall, the head coach of the Pride and also a native of England. “He reads the game beautifully. He is a man of great character. He is not a loud rah-rah guy. He will lead by example.”
Hawkins, an all-CAA player in 2014 and 2015, helped Hofstra win the regular-season title and the Pride will be the top seed and host No. 5 seed William & Mary on Friday in the CAA semifinals.
No. 6 seed College of Charleston and No. 2 seed Delaware will meet in the other semifinal on Friday at Hofstra, the defending tourney champ.
“They have some very explosive and dynamic players,” Nuttall said of the Tribe. “They have gained a lot in the league since we played them (and won 2-1 Oct. 8). You have to say they are on a roll.”
The CAA championship match will be televised on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on ASN, as will the title game of the Atlantic 10 Conference at noon. The winner of each gains an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Atlantic 1- top-seed Saint Louis (7-7-3, 6-2) lost to No. 8 seed Dayton, the defending conference champ, in the opening game of the tournament Thursday at Davidson College.
“We played Dayton (Oct. 8) and it seems like a long time ago,” said Billikens head coach Mike McGinty. “We won (1-0) at Dayton, which is not easy to do. I expect a close game again. I think our kids pretty intense defensively. A lot of our goals (on offense) have come on set pieces.”
Joe Saad has four goals to lead Saint Louis, which has scored just 18 goals while allowing 22. The Billikens have been outshot 235-139 in all games.
“Our team is greater than the sum of its parts,” McGinty said. “I think we have a very deep roster.”
“They have been the dominant team in the A 10 this year,” Dennis Currier, the Dayton head coach, said of Saint Louis. “They are very good in set pieces. We know what we have in front of us.”
The Flyers lost 40 goals from graduated players and have used six freshmen in the lineup at times this year, according to their coach. Dayton is paced by Lalas Abubakar, a senior defender. “He was by far our best player,” Currier said.
Hofstra, meanwhile, has thrived while using two goalies this season.
Alex Ashton of England has played in 13 games with nine starts and has allowed 1.41 goals per game while Leonard Arkhanhelskyi of Ukraine has played in nine games with eight starts and has allowed 0.95 goals per contest.
“Both have done very well. I would say at the moment Alex is the guy who will play. We will go with Leonard if we have to. It is a good situation,” Nuttall said.
On offense the Pride has four players with at least 12 points. Luke Brown, a freshman from England, leads the team with seven goals and has two assists.
Nuttall said that balance can be attributed to senior midfielder Joseph Holland, a native of London.
“Joe takes away a lot of attention. He frees up other people to get those opportunities,” Nuttall said.
The Pride beat William & Mary on a rainy surface last month on Long Island.
“It rained pretty heavy that night. It made the turf slick. That gave us a lot of problems. Hofstra was able to adapt. They put us under a lot of pressure early. They scored a first goal and that put us on our heals,” said Chris Norris, the head coach for William & Mary.
Hofstra has started three freshmen but has a core group of seniors.
“It is an older group, it is a group with a lot of experience. They won it last year at their place. They know what is like to win. They are not going to get rattled very easily,” Norris said.
The Pride has players on its roster from England, Cyprus, Venezuela, New Zealand, Ghana, China and Ukraine.
Nuttall tries to recruit locally but said the Pride has lost some potential players to big-time programs.
“We have to go a bit further afield,” said Nuttall, who hopes to have more Americans next season. “You never know until the signing date.”