Holy Family turns to fresh faces in men’s soccer

Mariano Cepeda is excited to welcome the incoming class of freshmen.

Winning goal: Mariano Cepeda, a captain on the Holy Family soccer team, is excited about the incoming freshmen class. Photo: Stephen Pellegrino Photography

Every time Mariano Cepeda saw Georg Montag, he’d ask the question. And the Holy Family University men’s soccer coach was very careful to give an honest answer without getting his player’s hopes up.

But that was hard because the coach was very excited.

“I would ask him all the time, who are we getting?” said Cepeda, a senior midfielder. “Last year, I wanted to know who was coming in. I wanted to hear we were getting great players. He told me some, but he didn’t tell me everything we got. I wouldn’t have believed him.”

Montag didn’t have a good offseason. He had a great one.

He pulled in Sean McCormick, John Lodise and Davis Habilaj from Father Judge High School.

Then he landed Ryan Stock from Archbishop Ryan and Christian Escobar Delgado, Charles Afful and Mohamed Elgayar from Northeast. Then Anthony Boyle from La Salle.

Then came Roman stars Art Dolan and Matt Flanagan. And from outside the city, he got Juan Castillo from Abington and Mike Smith from Archbishop Wood.

Five of the players were All-Catholic selections a season ago, and all of them had offers from other colleges.

“The best thing about these kids is that they are exactly what we want at Holy Family,” Montag said. “Sandra Michael, the athletic director, is very supportive, she lets us build a team that would represent the school well.

“The best part about this recruiting class is that they’re local. And above that, they’re all great students. That’s what we strive for, we love great students and we love local players because we know the way they play.”

Selling these players to Holy Family wasn’t hard, considering they enjoyed a lot of success last year.

Judge was one of the top teams in the Catholic League, as were Roman and Wood. Northeast was once again the top team in the Public League.

But selling Holy Family to these players wasn’t a chore, either.

They all chose the school on their own, but when they arrived and saw familiar faces, it definitely put them at ease.

“I didn’t know everyone who was coming here, so it was good to see them,” said McCormick, a striker who is majoring in business. “I think I decided late, and I knew some of the guys were coming, but it’s great to have them all. The ones I didn’t know, I knew the Judge guys, but I knew the others from playing club ball or just playing against them.”

That was all part of Montag’s plan.

Getting good local players has always been the Ryan grad’s plan, and he’s followed that plan every year. But never has it brought so many stars as it did this year.

“We are getting that relationship with the Catholic League where coaches do a great job helping us,” Montag said. “It’s great that they think that way. We are local, we want those kids. And Northeast is now right in that mix. Coach (Kraig) Feldman does a great job with those kids, and we’re starting to get them. They’re talented players.

“You want to have that pipeline. You want them to want to come here. We have had good players before, but you don’t usually see a recruiting class like this.”

Thus far, the Tigers are 1–2 on the year. In their one victory, a 4–0 triumph over St. Thomas Aquinas, the team got goals from McCormick and Smith.

The freshmen are still learning, but they’re ready to contribute.

“We all became close really fast,” said Dolan, a Fishtown resident who is playing defense. “It definitely helped that we knew each other, but I think we came together really quickly, especially with the older guys, because they were very accepting. It’s early, but it is a family.

“That’s one of the best things about coming here. We knew right away that we would all get along. We are all friends now.”

There’s also a family connection.

While many of the players were weighing their options last year, Elgayar always knew he was going to give Holy Family a long look.

His brother Ahmed played soccer at the school and is now an assistant coach.

“He’s a great coach, I’ve always followed him in everything he did, so I kind of knew I was coming here,” said Elgayar, who led Northeast to three straight Public League crowns before graduating in June. “He’s a good coach. I played against a lot of these guys, so I was happy to hear they were coming here. He was excited, too.”

The goal is to keep the excitement level up.

It helps that many of the players have the camaraderie of playing in the Catholic League.

“We’ve played each other a lot, so I knew they could play,” said Smith, a business major. “We’re all learning to play together, but it’s coming together. We’re having fun, and we’re playing better every day. We haven’t been together that long, but it’s coming together.”

There’s no doubt this year’s class could lead to success down the road. According to Montag, all of the freshmen will have a chance to play, and as many as four are slated to be full-time starters.

The future is bright, but the upperclassmen are making sure this isn’t a rebuilding year.

This is on-the-job training.

“I’m going to make sure they’re ready to play,” said Cepeda, who is a captain. “I need to win this year. I want them to be good for years, but for me, I want to win this year. They’re doing everything they can to win. If they weren’t, I’d let them know.

“They’re doing a great job. I think they’ll help us win in the future and this year.” ••