At the Heart of Soccer’s Defense: Anthony Occhialini

By Danny Contreras

Anthony Occhialini is the number one man between the posts for the CCSU men’s soccer team.  He has registered five shutouts this season, has allowed just one goal per game, and has helped the Blue Devils to a mid-season first place ranking in the NEC.

The Montville, Conn., native remains a team man and thanked his teammates and defense for making his job easier. “Last game I didn’t have any saves,” he began in regards to the 3-0 win over Robert Morris on Oct. 7. “Our defense is solid, but we just are strong overall in the midfield and the defense and it is putting less pressure on me and we’re playing well.”

While in Montville he was named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s All-American as well as All-New England, all-state and all-conference.

“He came highly recommended; I mean we saw him play,” said goalkeeping coach, Christian Benjamin. “The goalkeeping community is very small and through my contacts, he came highly recommended. That speaks volume about the kind of student he is about the game, the kind of training, you know—for lack of a better word—his discipline in training spoke testament about what he would be as a prospect for us. So we signed him and had him come to Central knowing full well that he could push for a starting position, even in his first year.”

Occhialini looks up to Tim Howard, the United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper who began his career at Manchester United in 2006 before joining Everton FC the following year. “Tim Howard, just because he’s the number one goalkeeper in the world to me. His footwork and the way he practices everyday is amazing and I want to be just like him.”

In the professional world, “Tony”, as the members of the Blue Devils call him, follows London-based Chelsea FC.

While the All-American goalkeeper may be the back bone of the team, he still emphasized the group effort in the games they have played together so far.

“Christian has been helping me everyday non-stop to get me to the level I am right now,” Occhialini said. “I’m doing everything I can for this team, to be the best player and help these guys out… mold everybody around me and have the best team. Mistakes are going to happen, you can’t be a perfectionist.”

Right now the junior is focused on playing for CCSU, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t soccer after college.

“I want to try, there’s always a shot somewhere, there’s a place for everyone. Even if it’s overseas, in Europe there’s Division I, Division II and III so there’s spots everywhere,” he said.

Coach Benjamin has high regards for Occhialini and commended his passion for the sport.

“He is a student of the game, always working hard trying to better himself,” said Benjamin. “He’s made amazing strides over the years to go from a very athletic keeper, a very focused and driven keeper to kind of stepping back a little bit and study the game and study his approaches. It takes a goalkeeper a couple of years to calm down and acclimate themselves to the pressures of the game, and he’s been able to handle it. He’s handled it well this season and I believe this season he’s been our most consistent player.”

Before he signed for the Blue Devils, Occhialini was a highly regarded goalkeeper with offers from major programs around the country. He considered some of them, but it was CCSU who truly offered him a realistic package which would allow his development.

“When I signed for Central, I just wanted to play and keep the level I was at. I was looking at some big schools like West Virginia and UMass, teams like that, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play. By the time I’d be able to play, a recruit would come in, and he would take me out,” he explained.

Occhialini lost his shutout streak of three games on Oct. 14 after a mistake made by a linesman in the Bryant game that allowed the Bulldogs a goal.

“He’s dominating the air [and] his distribution has been great. His communication has been exceptional with the back four … what really separates him from other keepers is his poise, his confidence and his maturity,” said Coach Benjamin.

He works hard every day in training and it is his dedication to the sport that has earned him the right to be at the heart of the Blue Devils’ defense and in net. “He challenges everybody in the goalkeeping core to work just as hard and to expect a lot from themselves,” said Coach Benjamin.

Occhialini is hopeful to guide the Blue Devils to the top of the NEC Championships for the first time in four years when he faces Quinnipiac this upcoming Friday.