The men’s soccer team was handed its first conference loss of the season last Saturday, Sept. 28, falling to the Hamilton Continentals 1-0. It is the first time Hamilton has ever beaten the Cardinals; the team had lost its previous five matches against Wes.
Hamilton’s Trevor Bobola scored the lone goal of the contest in the 53rd minute, much to the delight of the 250-odd spectators in Clinton, N.Y. who were enjoying the Continentals’ Fallcoming Weekend. The junior midfielder received a crossing pass, sent from the left wing by John McGuinnis, and put his shot into the far back post past Wesleyan keeper Emmett McConnell ’15. Bobola was honored as the NESCAC Player of the Week for his play. He has scored three of his team’s five goals on the year.
Wesleyan scrapped together eight shots in the game, three of which were on goal. None of the chances, however, caused Hamilton keeper Fred Porges to expend much energy. McConnell, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week, fell to 3-2 on the season and 3-1 in the NESCAC. His save percentage fell to .875 after stopping three of four shots on goal in this match. The only goalie in the league with a higher save percentage is Williams’ Peter Morrell, who entered this week with a .902 mark.
It is not for an overall lack of chances that Wesleyan has been unable to score this season; the Cardinals just haven’t produced the quality chances they need. Of the 41 shots they’ve attempted over the three previous games, only one has been on goal.
“The majority of those 41 shots have been outside the 18-yard box,” said striker Matt Lynch ’15. “We cannot depend on these long shots to hit the back of the net every time.”
Saturday was the second consecutive game out of which the Cardinals have been shut out. The lack of offense is increasingly becoming a cause for alarm for the squad, which scored six goals in its first two games. In the five games since then, Wesleyan has found the back of the net just three times, and never more than once in a game.
Teams have done a strong job adjusting to Wesleyan’s up-tempo style of play by adopting a bend-don’t-break approach to the game, falling back into defensive sets and refusing to let Wesleyan have odd-man breaks upfield. Instead, opponents wait for a Wesleyan mistake and do their best to capitalize on Cardinal turnovers, as opposed to trying to create a chance when there isn’t one.
“We lost the ball in the midfield [in the Hamilton game,] and the other team had four guys running at our centerbacks,” Lynch observed of the lead-up to the goal.
The Cardinals fell to ninth in the NESCAC in goals per game, averaging 1.29. Hamilton (.83) and Bates (.50) are the only teams with more anemic offenses than Wesleyan’s this year. The Cards have focused on improving that offense over the past week.
“A big emphasis in our recent practices has been offensive movement starting from the top players,” Lynch said. “We need to make smart runs to open up space either for ourselves or our teammates. This way, we can move further up the field and have shots closer to goal.”
Lynch also said that the team must shift to combat opponents’ adjustments to Wesleyan’s style of play by making higher-percentage plays, increasing the speed of the game, and only taking one or two touches before dumping the ball to a teammate.
Wesleyan has a good chance to bounce back this weekend from its disappointing 0-2 record last week when it hosts Colby on Saturday, Oct. 5. The Mules, despite ranking in the middle of the league in goals per game, are last in the conference standings. They are the only team without a single point in league play, losing all four NESCAC games they’ve played. They are, however, 3-0-0 outside league play.
Colby also has the worst goals-against average in the league, allowing almost 1.7 goals per game. It also doesn’t have any players that rank in the top 10 in the NESCAC in points or save percentage. The Mules will be coming to Middletown off a 2-1 victory against Thomas College on Oct. 2.