Mark Tillotson – Staff Writer –
Mario Costa has taken in everything he has learned in the last four years to not only become a better person and soccer player but to become the leader of his beloved Owls soccer team. The senior midfielder and captain said he still remembers his first days at SCSU.
“I was very nervous coming in and I didn’t know anyone,” Costa said. “Then, I made two close friends who were always pushing me to get better and develop my skills.”
Costa’s two closest friends are seniors Frankie Lara and Julian Myers. They share a special bond which Lara said helps translate into great team chemistry on the field.
“We’re so close because we’ve been roommates since our freshman year and it’s great because we can be honest with each other,” said Lara. “We can give each other constructive criticism and help each other out.”
Mario’s leadership and play on the field has helped his team to an 8-5-1 record here in this late stage of the season. Although the team’s record isn’t exactly where they would like it to be, Costa said he has seen a steady improvement in the team since early in the season.
“We have a very young team filled with a lot of new guys,” Costa said. “We didn’t really have much time in the offseason to play with each other and get to know one another, but now we’re like a family and we love to play with each other. It’s been up and down so far but we’re finally getting back into the flow of things.”
Being a leader is something that Costa cherishes and he said he feels like his teammates really respect him and want to learn from him.
“My teammates are always coming up to me and asking me questions about how they can improve and get better, so I definitely feel like they look up to me as a player,” said Costa.
Head coach Tom Lang has also had a big influence on Costa and the way he approaches the game of soccer, according to Costa. He said that Lang’s knowledge of the game is remarkable.
“When it comes to soccer, Coach Lang knows more than any other coach I’ve played for,” said Costa. “Everything he says I take in and try to improve on.”
Lang is the sole reason why Costa is at SCSU in the first place. As a scout for U.S. Soccer, it was Lang who ultimately sold Costa on joining his team. Lang first saw Costa play for South Central Premier in the U.S. Development Academy. Costa said he recalls the first time he spoke with his future coach.
“At first, I had no idea where I was going to play in college,” Costa said. “Then, Coach Lang called me up and said he had a few roster spots left so I decided to join the team.”
Since then Mario has molded himself into a very good leader and player. Lara said Costa really tries to get the upperclassmen to understand their role.
“Mario puts it on all of the upperclassmen to be leaders and role models to all of the underclassmen,” Lara said.
Lang has seen similar qualities in Costa since his arrival at Southern.
“When Mario first came in, he was a role player, and he just simply did his role,” said Lang. “Now he takes on more of a leadership role.”
Lara said the biggest change since his freshman year has been his confidence as both a leader and player.
“Before Mario, we had the same captain for three years,” said Lara. “Mario really learned a lot from him and it helped him develop his leadership skills as well as his confidence.
Along with his great intangibles, Costa brings very good skill to the field every time he plays. Prior to joining the Owls, Costa was an All-New England and All-Conference pick at Stonington (Conn.) High School. In his sophomore year as an Owl, he was an All-Northeast- 10 selection. Lang said the balance in Costa’s game is what makes him a good player.
“He’s a very well-rounded player,” said Lang. “He’s very good with the ball in his possession and he rarely ever turns it over. He’s been around for four years and he’s done really well for us while he has grown and matured as a player.”
Mario has come a long way since being a nervous freshman with limited confidence on the field. Lara said he still remembers how Mario performed in his first game.
“Mario’s first game, he seemed to be very nervous,” Lana said. “While he was in, he turned the ball over and the other team ended up scoring on the play. It seems like after his freshman year, his confidence skyrocketed and now he is our captain.”
Lara and Costa both share similar goals in that they want to win, to win often, and to win at whatever cost.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a National Championship but for right now we want to focus on winning the next game,” said Lara. “If we keep that mindset, we will get closer and closer to our goal.”
After college, Costa said he doesn’t plan on leaving soccer behind.
“I want to go somewhere to play, whether it’s overseas or in this country, “Costa said. “My dad has always pushed me and told me that I can do it, so that’s what I want to do.”