Men's soccer team celebrates Halloween at coach Dean Koski's house. (Credit to Dean Koski)

How a picnic saved a season: Men’s soccer defeats Boston University


Tensions were high as the clock approached 90 minutes in the men’s soccer game against Boston University on Oct. 30. In a race to make the Patriot League playoffs, Lehigh was in desperate need of three points. 

With time running down, freshman Perry Kingson made a move in the box and forced a foul by Boston University’s defense, setting up a penalty kick for senior All-American Josh Luchini. 

As the crowd roared for the potential game-winner, Luchini remained stoic while he slowly walked to the center of the penalty box. 

On senior night, in front of family and friends, Luchini struck the ball into the bottom right of the goal, sealing Lehigh’s 5-3 victory.

Luchini’s second goal of the night may have also saved the season for the Mountain Hawks. 

“He’s a goal scorer,” said associate head coach Ryan Hess. “He’s been scoring his whole career. I’m so pleased for him to have two (goals) on a night like this. Getting someone like Josh (Luchini) going with some confidence will be huge for us.”

The Mountain Hawks now sit in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Patriot League standings with one game remaining. They are one point ahead of seventh-place Lafayette. Six teams qualify for the postseason tournament.

Lehigh Men’s soccer is tied for fourth place with one game remaining in the Patriot League. Teams get three points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss. (credit Patriot League Athletics)

“We’ve been working hard all season, and now things are starting to click,” Hess said.

On Sept. 29, Lehigh was 0-3 in the Patriot League and 0-8-1 overall. The team couldn’t create continuity on offense, scoring only five goals through the first nine games. 

Despite returning 15 players from the championship season in 2019, Lehigh was struggling to stay afloat in the playoff race. 

Coach Koski knew the team needed a change of pace to take his players’ minds off of soccer and to build team chemistry.

So, Koski hosted a team picnic at his home.

Koski hoped two hours of riddles and problem-solving games would allow his team to come together in a way they hadn’t in the preseason and in the spring of 2020.

“Ten toothpicks are in one shape. How do you move two and make another shape?” Koski said. “How do you get a quarter inside the house and outside the house with only moving two sticks?”

There was a physical and intellectual component to the team building.

Koski set up a basketball hoop with six spots on the floor. Each player needed to hit a shot from all six spots before the team could move on. 

“It called upon different skill sets,” Koski said. “Some kids are better with the physical, some kids are better with the intellectual, but everybody has to contribute.” 

On Oct. 2, the team stepped back out on the pitch against Army with a whole new outlook on the season.

Lehigh has gone 4-1 in the Patriot League since the picnic, scoring 12 goals in five games. 

“It was a signature moment in our season where we said, ‘OK, let’s go be a team,’” Koski said.

Hess said the team made minor tactical adjustments to get their two forwards, Luchini and junior Jack Sarkos closer to the goal.

The adjustment has allowed Sarkos to explode, scoring six goals in the last four games. 

On Oct. 23, the team played Navy in a crucial contest on the road. A loss would have sunk its record to 2-5 in the Patriot League.

With the team needing three points, Sarkos scored his first career hat-trick in a 3-2 overtime win. 

“Playing a 4-4-2 and playing with Josh has been great,” Sarkos said. “I am more of a hold-up forward and more of a hard nose player. I can flick the ball on, and Josh can run behind, so we combine well together. With his speed, he can stretch the back-line and then I can get the ball on my feet and hold off defenders. It’s a really good combination playing with him.”

Koski said when the team was struggling to score goals, they were possessing the ball in the midfield well but weren’t able to put pressure on the other team’s final third. 

He wanted to create more opportunities for his strikers by pushing the ball forward as much as possible and allowing his forwards the freedom to make more runs. 

Koski said in a game against Holy Cross, Lehigh’s two centerbacks passed the ball back-and-forth to each other 67 times, and only once or twice did they play a ball forward.

“Let’s flip those numbers and play fifty balls forward and pass it back-and-forth ten times,” Koski said. “Let’s get the ball to our forwards to at least increase our chances of scoring a goal.”

Two hours of team-building activities and small tactical changes have sparked a sense of belief for the Mountain Hawks as they continue to flourish down the stretch of their season.

After a senior night win, the team now shifts its focus to getting three more points against Colgate on Nov. 3 in Hamilton, New York, in the regular-season finale.

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