Kick Habit

Kick Habit

19 minutes before the Southern Connecticut State men’s soccer team squares off against Northeast-10 Conference foe Stonehill College, Kid Cudi’s mellow “The Pursuit of Happiness” plays quietly through stadium speakers. Each team gets loose with drills and calisthenics at opposite ends of the turf. The thump sounds of warm-up shots echo off the bleachers at Jess Dow Field. The game’s referees stand at midfield, stretching and chatting.

It’s 70 degrees as the sky transitions from cobalt blue to black and the crowd trickles in, mostly parents of SCSU and Stonehill athletes at first, then modest waves of student supporters once the game is underway. The small crowd downplays a significant fact: the Southern Connecticut State University Owls have the most dominant men’s soccer program in NCAA Division II history.

Of late, the Owls have been in something of a rebuilding phase, going 16-15-2 over the past two seasons. The program history, however, is rich: the team has won 75 percent of its matches since its inception in 1968. Some of the most impressive stats include: six NCAA Championship trophies (the most in Division II history), 53 All-American players, 4 National Player of the Year Awards and 17 NCAA Tournament semifinal appearances. Additionally, 11 different Owls have gone onto compete as MLS pros.

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Head Coach Tom Lang, in the midst of his 17th season at the helm, has a storied past of his own. Lang played forward at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, and led his team to the 1974 Division II National Championship, making him the only person alive to have won the title as both coach and player. In 1977, Lang left Adelphi before graduating, when the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League drafted him. At the time, the Cosmos were considered one of the league’s most formidable squads, with a stellar record and a star forward. You may have heard of the guy—from Brazil, goes by a single name, is widely regarded as the greatest player of all-time?

That’s right: Coach Lang played professional soccer with Pelé.

The Cosmos won the championship that year. Afterward, Pelé called it quits and Lang bounced around a couple other teams, in Denver and Atlanta, but after three seasons he returned to Adelphi to finish his degree. While there, his old coach asked if he would help out as an assistant coach.

“That was pretty much it,” Lang says. “I fell in love with coaching. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

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Lang nabbed his first head coaching job in 1982 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he stayed until taking the reigns at Farleigh Dickinson University in 1990. In 1997, Lang became SCSU’s third men’s soccer coach, taking over for Ray Reid who had led the Owls to 3 national championships before accepting a position at UConn. Reid and Lang go way back—Lang was Reid’s counselor at a summer soccer camp, and the two would later work together as coaches for the U.S. Soccer Olympic Development Program. When Reid decided to become a Husky, he called up Lang, thinking he might have some Owl in him. Turns out Reid was right.

Lang led SCSU to back-to-back National Championships in 1998 and 1999, and to date has compiled an incredible record of 232-58-40 at the school. In both championship seasons, Lang was named National Coach of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and among active coaches, he’s 8th in overall wins.

His passion for coaching has rubbed off on the players, too. Senior midfielder and captain Ross McGibney and junior defender Eric Rothbart both say they aspire to someday become head soccer coaches, in part because of their time under Lang’s tutelage.

“You can still sense the fire and competitiveness [in Lang],” Rothbart says. “It definitely stands out.”

“My whole life is soccer,” McGibney says. “One day, I’d like to run my own program, much like the way Coach Lang does.”

Lang jokes that he needs a tissue.

Back at Jess Dow Field, it’s halftime and SCSU is up 2-0. The Owls controlled the ball well in first half, firing off 10 total shots to Stonehill’s 5. Sophomore forward Daquan King scored the first goal just six and a half minutes in, and McGibney scored the second off a Kevin Joslyn pass. The Owls wind up controlling the second half, too, though the score goes unchanged. The win brings the team’s conference record to 4-1-1, putting them in 4th place out of 14 teams. Now, one game later (a loss), the team finds itself in 7th place out of 14 teams in-conference, but there’s plenty of season to go: 7 games left and a showdown on October 12th with reigning Northeast-10 champs and current league leaders Southern New Hampshire University.

At midfield, after the final horn, players from both teams shake hands and hug. The crowd of 271 shuffles out slowly, like it arrived. The Owls are a young team this year, with 9 freshmen and just 2 seniors, so another national championship seems a long shot. But with SCSU’s soccer pedigree and talent, both on the sidelines and the pitch, there’s always a shot.

Southern Connecticut State University Men’s Soccer
Home games at Jess Dow Field, New Haven (map)
www.southernctowls.com/…

Written and photographed by Jake Goldman.

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Jake is a writer and a teacher whose fiction and non-fiction can be found in Abe's Penny, The Huffington Post, The New York Press and elsewhere. For a spell, he made a living writing 'comedic ringtones,' which meant hundreds of really bad cellphone-related knock-knock jokes and puns. He lives in New Haven with his wife and cats.

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