The men’s soccer team improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the NESCAC on Saturday, Oct. 5, defeating the Colby Mules 1-0 in the second overtime period. Matt Lynch ’15 netted the golden goal in the 107th minute to win it for the Cardinals.
Omar Bravo ’15 set up the play initially, bringing the ball down the right side and tapping a pass back to Hans Erickson ’16 as Lynch made his way into the center box. Erickson then sent the ball with one touch inside the six, where Lynch easily met the ball with his head and beat Colby keeper Cody Funkhouser for the game-winner.
The goal was Lynch’s first of his college career. He is playing his first season on the varsity squad, starting most games at striker. He acknowledged Erickson’s integral role in the play.
“It was the perfect service by Hans,” Lynch said. “This was exactly what the team needed. Heading the ball in the back of the net was very simple thanks to that pass.”
The Cardinals improved to 15-1 all-time against Colby, which has lost every game in the matchup since the first time they met in the 1978 season. Wesleyan has won 15 straight games against the Mules since then, beating Colby in every season since 2000, when the NESCAC began its 10-game conference schedule. The Cardinals also beat the Mules in a 2009 playoff game.
Colby, though, looked poised to reverse the past on Saturday when the team sent the game into overtime for just the third time against Wesleyan. Both teams landed their shares of punches throughout the battle, putting six shots on goal apiece.
Brandon Sousa ’16, who put two shots on goal in this contest, has been gaining more attention from opposing defenses in recent games. Before Lynch, Sousa had the best chance to net the winning goal when he put a hard shot on net in the 84th minute of the game.
Funkhouser made a beautiful save on Sousa’s team-leading 25th shot on goal of the season. The junior netminder made five saves in the contest, and he is second in the NESCAC with 6.17 saves per game.
Tending Wesleyan’s goal was Emmett McConnell ’15, who turned in another quality start by stopping all six shots on goal that he faced. McConnell has the best goals against average and save percentage in the NESCAC. Saturday was his third shutout of the season, all three of which have been against conference opponents.
“Emmett is consistently making crucial saves that keep us in these close games,” Lynch said of McConnell’s performance. “He is an integral part of our success.”
After losing two straight games the previous week, Wesleyan hoped to capitalize on Colby, whose woeful offense—the Mules have scored five goals in eight games—has led to their 0-5 NESCAC record.
“Against Colby, we were able to maintain a high level of energy through the game,” Lynch said. “This was missing in some of our other games. We would come out strong in the first half, and our energy level dropped for the rest of the game.”
The team is still finding its rhythm, having played only four games with its complete roster after the season-opening suspensions, and the Cardinals have played the most recent three without offensive sniper and team captain Danny Issroff ’15. Unfortunately, Issroff will miss the remainder of the season after suffering from appendicitis.
“We are still finding out a lot about our team: who works well with whom, what positions are most suitable for certain players,” Lynch said of the relatively recent reunion of the team’s top lines.
Another major problem for the Cardinals has been the number of cautions. They’ve received 10 yellow cards in nine games, and Sousa received his fourth of the season in the second overtime period against Colby after falling down on a play in which he didn’t appear to have made contact with the opponent. The referee charged him with diving.
NESCAC rules state that the players will receive a one-game suspension after their fifth card. Sousa is one card away from that ban. With five games left in the regular season and hopes for the playoffs, losing one of their best gunmen would cause great difficulties for an already-struggling offense.
Despite these difficulties, Wesleyan improved to 4-1 in the league this year, second in the league behind only Amherst, who is ranked third in Division III. However, the Cardinals have faced only one opponent in the top six of the NESCAC, so the next few weeks will prove if they are truly contenders for the league title.
Next up for Wes was Eastern Connecticut State University, which held a 7-1-2 record going into the game on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Wesleyan was 9-4 all-time against the school, but the last win came in 2003. After battling to a 1-1 draw, the drought against this intrastate foe will last another year.
The Eastern Conn offense struggled in the game, combining for eight shots and just three on goal in the entire 110-minute double overtime game. Wesleyan tripled ECSU in shots with 24, and almost did the same with shots on goal, putting 11 on Eastern Conn’s goalie tandem of Greg Walton, who played the first half and both overtimes, and Curtis Barnes, who played the second half.
The two teams tied, though, in the only category that ultimately matters: shots that found the back of the net. Both teams scored once within 14 minutes in the second half.
Wesleyan faced a scare, however, in the closing seconds of the first half. A bouncing kick from midfield sailed toward the net, and McConnell went to retrieve it inside the post to his right. The ball took an unexpected hop, McConnell threw his hands in front of himself, and he miraculously deflected the ball to his right, just outside the goal post.
The Cards eventually struck first Tuesday afternoon, but only after failing to capitalize on a plethora of opportunities at the beginning of the second half.
In the 54th minute, Charlie Gruner ’17 cut in from the right side with the ball, where he was met by a defender. Gruner disabled him with a quick touch inside toward the net. He had only the goalie to beat but couldn’t get any leg behind the shot, and Barnes stopped the slow-rolling ball with his fingertips.
Six minutes later, after a foul inches outside the penalty box, Sousa had a chance to draw first blood when he had a free kick from the 18, straight in front of the net. After, Lynch deked the shot and passed it off to Sousa. Sousa’s chip sailed far over the net and into the Wesleyan Men’s Soccer banner that looms behind the east-facing goal on Jackson Field.
The men finally landed a punch in the 64th minute, when Bravo found Gruner on his second corner kick in as many minutes. The kick was perfectly placed inside the six, and all Gruner had to do was make contact with the ball to set it in, giving Wesleyan a 1-0 lead.
After 14 minutes of sparring that followed the goal, Eastern Conn caught Wesleyan on its heels after a turnover in the midfield. The Cardinals couldn’t get back in time to stop a Carl Stensland cross that Mitch Power muscled home without a touch from McConnell. The play stunned Wesleyan, who had controlled the ball for almost the entire game to that point. Power had five of his team’s eight shots.
McConnell made his most skillful save of the evening six minutes remaining in the contest, when Power took another shot from 25 yards out that was redirected on a header toward the bottom right corner, but the Wesleyan keeper dove to his right to stop the shot.
Although Wesleyan dominated possession time in the overtime periods, attacking with two corner kicks and five shots, three of which were on net, the team was unable to create any tangible threats to net a game-winner. Lynch had the best opportunity when he broke behind the defense with the ball and took a low-angle shot from the right side. His shot sailed high and wide, as he was unable to control it, planting with his left foot and taking a right-footed shot from the side of the net.
Wesleyan’s defense turned in another incredible performance, with Ben Bratt ’15, Spencer Tanaka ’15, and Ben Toullote ’16 all coming up with key preventative tackles throughout the game.
Last season, for the just the third time in 30 years, Wesleyan, Amherst, and Williams all tied each other, and thus, the Little Three had no champion. The Ephs are 3-2 this year and in fifth place in the conference.
Wesleyan opens up its Little Three championship chase this Saturday, Oct. 12 at home against Williams.