New faces abound, but expectations remain high for Stow boys soccer
Kyle Kosmala has gone through numerous cycles of coaching great players — and watching them go — during his 21 years in charge of Stow-Munroe Falls boys soccer.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of obstacles, Kosmala knew the 2020 Bulldogs would have a different look.
Kosmala has to deal with the loss of 14 seniors this fall, including multi-year starters Chris Miller, Josh Colvis, Caleb Benci, Miles Thomas and Tristan Matteson.
That group led Stow to an 8-5-5 record last fall, tying for second in the Suburban League National Conference and reaching the Division I district semifinal before losing to Solon.
"We have a lot of new faces out there. They had to wait behind some really good players," Kosmala said. "Lucky for us, Jackson Dame did a great job with the JV team and we won a lot of games. We're relying on the seniors to pull us through."
So far, results have been mixed for Stow, but Kosmala said his team has "been getting better every time we step on the field."
Stow lost 2-1 Aug. 24 at GlenOak and fell 6-0 Aug. 26 at home vs. Massillon Jackson, but rebounded with a 5-0 home win over Woodridge Aug. 29 and a 2-0 win over Brecksville-Broadview Heights Sept. 1.
"It was tough for us because, usually with he scrimmages we have through July, we kind of know what we're going to look like," Kosmala said. "This year, we couldn't do that. After the first two games, we made a lot of adjustments. I don't know if we're 100% there. We were just a lot more cohesive in the last two games."
Stow will keep its Columbus Crew-style 4-2-3-1 formation this fall, as Kosmala believes the Bulldogs can play that style of offense.
"Ultimately, we have to do what we do best: Get to the end line, get the cross in and work from there," Kosmala said."
Kosmala's assistant coaches remain intact with Harold Burns as varsity assistant, Dame as head JV coach and Dan Daugherty as an assistant.
With Miller graduated, Stow will attempt to fill the hole at goalkeeper with juniors Alex Tosko and Alex Kissner.
Senior returning starter Nick Kuhlke has moved back to center back, where Kosmala said he has developed a partnership with junior Tyler Whited
"Those two guys have really solidified the center of our defense," Kosmala said.
Juniors Hayden Herman and Nolan Ruth are each seeing time at right back. At left back, juniors Bryce Danus and Blake Engel are seeing time, though Kosmala noted both can move up the field.
In its two central midfield spots, Stow has plenty of height and aerial ability in senior Aaron Gluth and freshman Reece Raymond-Smith.
"Both of those guy are great in the air," Kosmala said. "They're doing a good job cleaning things up in front of our center backs."
At the right wing spot, seniors Jared Kasper and Austin Butts as well as junior Dustin Horner all are seeing time. On the left wing, Engle, Kasper and Danus are among those rotating in.
The lynchpin of Stow's offense is the attacking midfield spot, which junior Nyles Spann will play this fall.
"He is a great player," Kosmala said. "He makes good decisions and makes very few turnovers. He broke in at left back for us last year, but moved up as the season went on.
At forward, Stow will start senior Muamar Mustafa, who has played all over the field during his Bulldogs career.
"He's probably our best player with his back to goal," Kosmala said. "We have a lot of the guys who can get balls in the air and he's certainly one of them."
Kosmala said senior Nathan Collins will also see time in the top two spots.
Regarding the GlenOak game, Kosmala said his team didn't look too overwhelmed.
"We weren't disorganized or anything, but you could tell we hadn't played yet," Kosmala said. "For a lot of guys, it was their first varsity game.
Stow scored first in the game as Danus scored in the 23rd minute, putting home a free kick off a rebound, but Stow was unable to hold the lead. Tosko had four saves in the game.
As for the Jackson game, Kosmala said his young team got schooled a bit by the veteran Polar Bears.
"We weren't stout enough on defense," Kosmala said. "They've got a lot of guys back. They have veterans all over the field. We made mistakes and they took advantage of them."
However, Kosmala said his team responded well by rebounding against Woodridge.
"We talked a lot about the Jackson game. We made a lot of adjustments and the guys played really well,"
Danus led Stow with two goals, while Spann added a goal and three assists. Raymond-Smith and Kuhlke each had one goal. Tosko had three saves and Kissner had one to preserve the shutout.
Kosmala said the 2-0 win over Brecksville was his team's best game so far.
"We started out with a couple of corners early. We talked about getting the crosses off during the game and we were able to create some chances," Kosmala said. "Right after halftime, we got two quick goals,"
Danus broke the deadlock in the 42nd minute, when he was able to turn a deflected cross into the net.
In the 46th minute, Spann hit a perfect crossing ball to Horner, who slotted the ball into the back corner to score his first varsity goal.
Tosko had four saves in the shutout.
Stow returns to Suburban League National Conference Sept. 8 at North Royalton at 7 p.m.