Fans of Canton soccer will probably remember Griffin Roach more for his ability to score goals and control play in the attacking third, but the former Bulldog is now starring at the other end of the field for a Boston University squad that is contending for its first Patriot League title.
Roach, who was an honorable mention for HockomockSports.com Player of the Year as a senior in 2018, earned Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall. He was the fifth player in program history to earn a conference’s top defensive award. He was also the first Patriot League player to earn the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honors three weeks in a row.
With Roach anchoring the back line, the Terriers, who were only picked eighth in the preseason league rankings, held nine clean sheets (the most since 2014) including a first shutout of Boston College in a decade. BU shut out ninth-ranked New Hampshire for its first win against a top-10 opponent since 2009.
“Coach (Kevin) Nylen has done a great job of bringing in new players for us and it was kind of just a matter of time before it really started to click,” Roach explained the day before BU took on Colgate. “Throughout his time, we’ve been able to constantly progress. He’s done a great job of getting us all on the same page and performing at a pretty high level and I think it’s been constant growth for the whole entire team.”
He added, “They brought in a new system and just kind of implementing that into our team and especially for me it’s really helped and just helped my progression as a player.”
Roach made an instant impact at BU, starting 16-of-17 games as a freshman, but a new coaching staff came in the following year and the pandemic cut short a season. As a junior, he started four of the six matches.
Last season, Roach took a big jump in playing time and made the most of it, becoming BU’s first Defensive Player of the Year since 2005 and being named All-ECAC DIII First Team, All Patriot League First Team, United Soccer Coaches (USC) All-Atlantic Region Third Team, and USC Scholar All-American (BU’s first player to be honored since 2008).
“Getting the opportunity to grow and it’s a huge stepping-stone process,” he said. “Gaining confidence throughout my tenure has been huge for me and also huge for the team as well. Our coaching staff has done an amazing job of showing each player every aspect of the game and I think you can really see that through the film that we do and the tactics that we run.”
Asked about what it meant to be recognized as the top defender in the Patriot League, Roach remarked, “It’s definitely a huge honor for sure. It kind of shows a lot of the hard work I’ve put in as well as the team and I think that award speaks for the team. It’s a team effort. Our back line had a lot of chemistry and therefore a lot of shutouts. It’s definitely a good feeling and I was definitely proud.”
He also showed off the scoring touch that helped him graduate tied for the fourth most points in Canton history (32 goals and 20 assists), when he nodded home from a set piece for his first collegiate goal in a 2-0 win over Bucknell. He added an assist in a win against Holy Cross.
The Terriers didn’t have high expectations in 2022, but reached the Patriot League semifinal. Eventual league champ Navy won that match in a thrilling shootout and that has left Roach and the other BU veterans with a feeling that there is still more to accomplish. It was one of the reasons that he didn’t hesitate to come back for a fifth year.
“I think myself and a lot of the older guys could see the trend that the team was heading in and I think coming us short of the Patriot League title gave all of us a reason to come back,” Roach said. “We’re very proud to have another opportunity to play for BU.”
After the success of last fall, BU has very different expectations (inside and outside of the program). The Terriers were picked second in the preseason rankings, with Roach being recognized as the league’s top defender coming into the season. No longer the underdogs, BU has to have a different mentality this year.
“It’s a little different feeling but it’s a better feeling,” Roach said. “It’s just taking every day at a time and implementing a system we can all follow. Just show up and do a routine and put our best foot forward and I think the rest will fall into place.”
He continued, “We definitely have the goal in mind to win the league however I think the coaches do a great job of making sure we focus on just one game at a time. We’re three games in, it’s still relatively early in Patriot League play, so just making sure we prepare for every game going forward can definitely lead to success.”
Defense continues to be a strength for the Terriers, who went into Saturday’s trip to Colgate at 6-2-1 overall and 3-0-0 in conference play. After a tough loss to Merrimack, BU earned a draw against their crosstown rival BC and three league wins. The Terriers haven’t allowed more than two goals in a match and only allowed one in the three Patriot League games.
Experience and chemistry are two of the reasons that Roach credits for the team’s solidity in the back. “Overall we’ve been playing pretty well,” he said. “All through the spring we had a pretty solidified group and we’re just able to build on last fall. That’s pretty special. The vast majority of the guys returned, which has been a pretty big key for us.”
While expectations are much higher this time around, the Terriers are also riding the momentum of 2022. The Patriot League Championships are still a long way away, but Roach believes that BU is ready for that challenge. “It definitely gave us a lot of confidence going into this year, just continuing to build off of last fall is huge,” said Roach, who has started all nine matches so far and leads the team in minutes played. “Just continuing to work on our tactics and build our chemistry has really helped us heading into this fall.”
The program is still searching for its first Patriot League title (and first conference title since winning the America East crown in 2008). Last year was the first semifinal appearance since 2015 and the only appearance in the Patriot League title game was in 2014 (the programs’s first year in the conference).
Roach, and the other veterans who returned for one more chance at a title, want to cap their careers by making history and leave a legacy for the program.
“It would feel great,” Roach said. “It would be the biggest highlight of my career, no question about it. It would mean so much and I know a lot of the guys have the same feeling. BU’s a historic soccer program, so it would be great to get a title of our own.”
(Ed. Note – Roach played the full 90 minutes on Saturday against Colgate in a 0-0 draw. That improves BU to 6-2-2 overall and 3-0-1 in Patriot League play.)