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Canisius men's primer: Fitter Teupen to anchor powerful back line

Preparation for the fall NCAA Division I season isn't straightforward - a slew of decisions must be made, and wrong steps have their repercussions. A player could focus on health and fitness, reducing the chances of injury by training on their own in a controlled setting, or the athlete could join an NPSL or PDL squad to compete with and against other high-quality players over the summer.

One choice is not necessarily better than the other, and both have pitfalls.

Canisius College central defender Thomas Teupen trained on his own during the summers before his freshman and sophomore seasons, but his second year with the Griffs - in which he entered as an All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason pick - was marred by injury.

Canisius center back Teupen is a menace in the air and sound with the ball at his feet. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Canisius center back Teupen is a menace in the air and sound with the ball at his feet. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

The 6'4 German missed three matches last September - none of them consecutive - and then a straight red card late in a conference loss to Marist forced him to miss the ensuing defeat against Fairfield.

To call it a lost season for Teupen might be a little unfair, but it certainly did not meet his expectations, as the Griffs bowed out in the first round of the MAAC Tournament in Disney.

[Read Part I in the early season college primers - UB women]

To take a new approach, Teupen chose a different preparation route leading into his junior season. He followed the footsteps of former Griffs teammate Alex De Carolis, who plied his trade across the country for the Seattle Sounders U-23 before a two-goal, six-assist senior campaign. De Carolis is now playing professionally in Sweden for Nora BK.

On the West Coast, Teupen saw over 450 minutes of high-level futbol under Sounders U-23 head coach Darren Sawatzky, who played four years in Major League Soccer, scoring twice from his center back position over a span of six matches.

Perhaps even more important was the chance to train against Hermann Award watch list striker Guillermo Delgado (Delaware), first-team All-MAAC forward Jose Aguinaga (Rider) and Gonzaga attacking midfielder Jakob Granlund.

[Read: Canisius can't snag Big 4 Shield from UB despite controlling long stretches]

"Compared to the other summers where I just stayed in shape by running and not by playing soccer, it's a different shape if you compete with really good players," Teupen explained after an early-season loss to UB. "I feel great - my body is in better shape than in other years, I'm probably stronger than when I came in as a freshman.

"My coach [Dermot McGrane] said in an earlier interview that I gained 25 pounds of muscle since coming to school here," Teupen added, a little sheepishly. When asked if that was true, the big German shrugged and smiled, "Maybe 20."

Towering Canisius center back Alex Grattarola will thrive in the air next to Teupen. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Towering Canisius center back Alex Grattarola will thrive in the air next to Teupen. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Despite the Griffs' 2-4 start to the season, Teupen and the rest of the defense have only allowed six goals in 550 minutes. In that same span, Canisius attackers have scored just four times -- including a game-winning header by Teupen in the 2-1 win over Bucknell in the Duquesne Invitational.

"We have a very solid defense this year," the junior defender said. "We brought in a French 6-foot-6 guy (Alex Grattarola), as a center back, and having another good center back together [with me], if the chemistry is there - we're both from Europe - I think it works well."

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Replacing De Carolis on the left is Bjarki (pronounced bee-YARKI) Bendiktsson, the 2014 Patriot League Rookie of the Year and second-team all-conference selection at Boston University, who sat out last season due to specific transfer rules.

"[Bjarki] brings not only technical ability, but also his composure and body language [is an example for] the rest of the team," Teupen said.

While questions will continue to be asked of the Griffs attackers, McGrane's side should be in every game due to this stingy defense - and don't expect Canisius to concede any headers off set pieces.

When asked if any foe would score in an aerial duel against Teupen and Grattarola, the German center back had a short answer.

"Um, no."

CANISIUS COLLEGE MEN'S SOCCER - Early-season look

2015 record: 8-9-1 overall, 5-5 in MAAC, lost in first round of MAAC Tourney; RPI 178 (out of 206)

2016 record so far: 2-4

Best result: 2-1 over Bucknell in the Duquesne Invitational

Head coach: Dermot McGrane, in his sixth season, recently collected win No. 100 of his career

Who's gone: The following starters graduated: Goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin, center back Ryan Schroen, center mid Nico Baudo, starting left back De Carolis and starting midfielder Chris Berardi, plus reserve forward Eric Ashley. Shane Greene, the 2014 Prep Talk Player of the Year for high school, is no longer with the program.

Who's new: Italian goalkeeper Marco Trivellato and Benediktsson both trained with the Griffs last year but were ineligible, but they've fit in seamlessly as starters. 2015 Prep Talk Player of the Year Troy Brady adds verve to McGrane's attack - he opened his collegiate account vs Bucknell - while sophomore transfer Grattarola pairs with Teupen in the heart of the back four.

Top players: Teupen is the physical force on defense, while midfielder Melvin Blair exploded during the second half of last season. The Jamaican is still a bit of a mercurial talent, but he's a game-breaker with boatloads of individual ability.

Attacking midfielder Melvin Blair, No. 10, was an offensive dynamo down the stretch in 2015. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Attacking midfielder Melvin Blair, No. 10, was an offensive dynamo down the stretch in 2015. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Position battle: Striker Mathew Santos looked bright and dangerous against UB - the Griffs' most dynamic attacker throughout the full match - but he's yet to find the back of the net in 2016 despite taking a team-leading 32 shots and putting just nine on target.

McGrane cannot afford to wait forever for Santos to produce, so expect Brady, Hakeem Milson, Mitch Cancilla, Francesco Strangio and perhaps even Blair to get more chances farther forward.

Unheralded star: Mo Kretschmer is quietly the Griffs' best technical player and rarely puts a foot wrong in the holding midfielder. The German junior is calm with the ball, a wise decision-maker and has a little more tooth in his tackles since he first arrived. Kretschmer won't fill up the score sheet, but he's a pleasure to watch.

Mo Kretschmer, No. 8 in white, is silky smooth on the ball. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Mo Kretschmer, No. 8 in white, is silky smooth on the ball. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

BN Soccer likes: Kretschmer falls in this category, too, but since he's already been mentioned, we'll point out his country mate Lucian Preis. The box-to-box midfielder scored a huge goal last year - the game winner against conference foe Quinnipiac - and complements Kretschmer with a relentless work rate. If Canisius keeps track of ground covered on the pitch, we'd expect Preis to be high up the list.

Canisius might struggle if...: They'll obviously struggle if they can't find goals. McGrane wasn't too concerned after his side created several scoring chances against UB, saying, "We've got a number of players that can score goals - we'll get them from a number of areas." But if the dry spell continues through the next two weeks before conference play, he might have a few more worries.

Big matches: The Griffs host Big 4 rival St. Bonaventure at 7 p.m. Sept. 16, then welcome a strong opponent in reigning conference winners Rider to open the MAAC slate on Sept. 24.

A visit to preseason darlings Monmouth on Oct. 22 presents a major chance to make a statement. It goes without saying that the Nov. 2 Battle of the Bridge at Niagara is circled on every soccer fan's calendar. See the full schedule here.

Canisius will visit Niagara and host St. Bonaventure in their other Big 4 matches. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Canisius will visit Niagara and host St. Bonaventure in their other Big 4 matches. (Don Nieman/Special to The News)

Email Ben Tsujimoto, who can't wait for temperatures in the 60s, at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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