Wesleyan Draws Against Undefeated Amherst
The previous week’s two-game skid was disappointing, but when men’s soccer took the field against Amherst on Saturday, Oct. 20, the past could not have mattered less. The Little Three rivals have recently played unrelenting soccer that has produced some terrifically close results. Last year, the two played to a scoreless draw at Amherst, but this year, the stakes were arguably higher. Amherst (11-0-1 overall, 7-0-1 NESCAC) came into the game as the presumptive victors of the NESCAC, in part due to an impregnable defense, and partially due to one of the most high-powered offenses the NESCAC has ever seen, highlighted by senior NESCAC leading scorer Spencer Noon. Wesleyan had come into the season with high hopes, and for the most part had played well, but fell twice in the past week and failed to live up to its potential.
In a stirring homecoming ceremony, seniors Ian Waldron, Noah Schlesinger, Walter Rodriguez, Evan Hazelett, Chris Kuehn, Ben Marcu, Adam Marcu, along with tri-captains Cabell Maddux, Rory O’Neill, and Adam Purdy were honored for their contributions to the program. After the brief ceremony, the game began just as one might expect. Amherst took control early and controlled the pace of the first half, coupling a physical attacking style with precision ball movement and stifling defensive wing-play. As they unfortunately have been wont to do, Wes conceded a goal as the first half was reaching its conclusion in the 45th minute. Amherst striker Noon approached the net from the left side and fired a shot at Purdy. Though Wesleyan’s all-league keeper deflected it to the right, it fell at the feet of Amherst’s Ben Norton, who crossed it back to Noon on the left, and the league leader scored yet again. 1-0 Amherst.
Though the first half of the game had largely been controlled by a potent Lord Jeffs offense, the second half was more even. Though shots remained in Amherst’s favor (12-4 in the first half, 11-3 in the second) Wesleyan had more substantial chances, and slowed the Amherst attack enough to render the Lord Jeffs’ chances uninspired and ineffective. Wesleyan finally did the improbable in the 66th minute when a brilliant little run of play found space for Walter Rodriguez ’13. The midfielder chipped a ball between two defenders to onrushing midfield battery-mate Rory O’Neill who, while holding off a defender to his left, ripped a shot past the Amherst keeper from 20 yards out. Wesleyan weathered the Lord Jeffs attack, and sent the game into overtime yet again, the Little Three championship on the line. This was only the second goal conceded by an Amherst squad that has been among the best in the country.
In overtime, the game came within literal inches of a Wesleyan victory. Though both teams pressed hard, it was a furious run by Wesleyan left back Brandon Sousa ’16 that provided the best overtime chance. Cutting in from the left, Sousa unleashed an absolute rocket of a shot that ricocheted off of the inside of the post into the middle of the box. There it found the head of O’Neill who dove forward and launched it on goal, but unfortunately Amherst’s keeper was positioned directly in its path and stifled the shot purely on reflex. Neither team would challenge that seriously again, and the game ended in a draw, 1-1. With this result the Little Three soccer championship ends in a draw as well.
Wesleyan goalkeeper Purdy saved 10 of the 11 shots sent toward goal, a career high for a single game. His counterpart Thomas Bull managed to stop five of the six with which he was confronted.
Wesleyan concludes its season on Wednesday against Trinity while its third seed in the conference playoffs remains on the line. The Bantams have had a year populated with ups and downs in equal measure, and the Cardinals come into the game as heavy favorites. Given their result against Amherst such expectations are justified, but one only has to remember back one year to recall a regular season-concluding letdown against Trinity.