The men’s soccer team fell to Amherst 1-0 last Saturday, Oct. 19 before beating Trinity on Tuesday, Oct. 22 by the same score.
The Cardinals took on Amherst at the Lord Jeffs’ Homecoming game on Hitchcock Field on Saturday. Ranked second in Division III, the Jeffs looked to extend their unbeaten streak to 32 games, dating back to last season.
The two teams took the pitch in front of a crowd of 250, Amherst’s largest to-date this season, and the Jeffs brought the heat early to the Cardinals. Three shots in the first ten minutes kept the Cards back on their heels, as they had a hard time clearing the box to prevent more scoring opportunities.
Amherst finally capitalized on its chance in the 14th minute, when Greg Singer ’16 boomed a shot from the left side of the box off of a blocked shot rebound and beat Wes keeper Emmett McConnell ’15, putting Wesleyan in a 1-0 deficit early on in the match.
Midfielder Brandon Sousa ’15 chalked the goal up to a simple lack of effort.
“Amherst came out with a lot more intensity than we did in those first fifteen [minutes],” Sousa said. “We had a game plan and we wanted to play in their half of the field as much as possible. We just were not able to execute due to a lack of intensity.”
Wesleyan was outshot 9-2 in the opening period, as it struggled to find a rhythm and was outpaced by its magenta-clad rivals.
The Birds came out with more energy in the second half, imposing their game plan by maintaining possession in the Amherst half of the field. They had eight shots in the half compared to Amherst’s four, but none posed a serious threat to break up the shutout.
Both McConnell and Jeff goaltender Thomas Bull had two saves on the afternoon, but Bull emerged with the shutout, his sixth of the season.
On the whole, both teams put forth fantastic defensive efforts, evidenced by the five total shots on goal between the squads. After the Amherst-dominated first fifteen minutes, Wesleyan matched its Little Three rival blow for blow, but was unable to dig itself out of the opening minutes’ rut.
Wesleyan didn’t have long to ruminate on the loss, but against Trinity, the team certainly played like they received a message from Coach Geoff Wheeler about how to open a game after the lackadaisical opening against the Jeffs.
The Cardinals came out on Tuesday full of energy and crisp passes, which led to some great scoring opportunities. Three Wesleyan shots beat the keeper but hit the post and were inches away from being goals.
“Our first half against Trinity was our best half of the year so far,” Sousa said. “We had a good week of practice and that obviously translated to our play in the game. We were playing in Trinity’s half the entire time.”
Sousa felt that a goal had to be inevitable as the game progressed.
“We were moving the ball well and we were creating a lot of good chances with our movement on and off the ball,” he said. “We hit the post three times, and we all felt like the goal was definitely coming.”
McConnell once again proved his skill with ten minutes left in the half after Wesleyan was flagged for a penalty inside the box. Trinity’s Mark Perreault put a hard-rolling PK to McConnell’s left, where the junior netminder stopped the ball with his outstretched hand, maintaining the 0-0 tie.
The Cardinals finally got the goal they felt they deserved in the 86th minute on a play, which didn’t seem to be one of their better chances of the afternoon. Dylan Hoy ’17 took a hard shot from a low angle on the right side of the box that was redirected by a Bantam defender into his own net, giving Wesleyan a 1-0 lead.
The lead looked safe until, with ten seconds left in the game, Bantam freshman John El-Hachem ripped a shot from the right side that forced Wesleyan defender Ben Toulotte ’16 to make an athletic diving stop to preserve the shutout for his team. It was McConnell’s fourth shutout of the year; he made three saves. It was also the third time in a row the Cards have emerged victorious in the Route Nine Rivalry.
Wesleyan did a stronger job in this game of creating high quality scoring opportunities. The Cardinals are, on the season, last in the league in shot percentage, converting just 11 out of 156 shots, or 7.7 percent.
“High-percentage chances are important, and recently we have been doing a better job of that,” Sousa said. “High shot totals are a useless stat and not something we should be proud of, especially when we don’t score enough…I would say we put ourselves in good places to get those high-percentage shots, we just don’t take advantage.”
Part of the reason for the Cards’ struggles is their loss of Danny Issroff ’15 to injury. Issroff, a captain and the team’s leading returning point scorer, has been limited to just three games this year because of appendicitis.
“[Danny] is a key member of this team offensively and defensively,” Sousa said. “He makes everyone around him better due to his amazing soccer IQ. He is a leader off and on the field and would make our team so much better if he was not dealing with injury.”
Sousa received his fifth yellow card of the season on Tuesday, which will result in a one-game suspension, presumably for the Birds’ upcoming battle with Middlebury on Saturday, Oct. 26.
“We are a smart team,” the sophomore said regarding the penalties. “We need to stay focused on the game and not worry about things we cannot control, like the referee or the crowd or the other team.”
Wesleyan is currently tied for third place in the conference with Williams. The Cardinals will take on second-place Middlebury this Saturday at home in their biggest game of the regular season. A win would leapfrog them into second place, and would put them one win away from guaranteeing them a home game in the opening round of the NESCAC playoffs.
“Middlebury is a must win game for us,” Sousa said. “Middlebury is always a good game; they should be one of the best teams we play this year. If we build off of our performance Tuesday against Trinity then I have no doubt in my mind that we will get the result we want.”