Shannon Welch/Staff Photographer

The men’s soccer team earned a first-round home playoff game, defeating then second-place Middlebury 1-0 on Saturday, Oct. 26 and leapfrogging the Panthers in the NESCAC standings.

The Cardinals, winners of two in a row after going winless in five of their previous six games, scored off of an Omar Bravo ’15 free kick nearly from midfield. Middlebury goalie Ethan Collins, who is among the league leaders with four shutouts this year, fumbled the incoming 40-yard kick and gave the Cardinals an opportunity for a rebound. Co-captain Ben Bratt ’15 swooped in as the ball caromed out of the goalie’s grasp. The ricochet went right to the Wesleyan defender, who easily cleaned up the mistake for his first goal of the season.

Wesleyan keeper Emmett McConnell, who has one NESCAC Player of the Week award so far this season, stopped all five shots that came his way en route to his fifth shutout of the season, as his team improved to 6-3-0 in the conference.

Middlebury controlled the pace of play for much of the game, but its legitimate scoring opportunities were few and far between. The Panthers’ best chance of the afternoon came seven minutes into the second half.

A Panther popped a header in from just yards away from the goal, but McConnell made his toughest save of the day on the well-placed ball as a rush of defenders enclosed him.

McConnell credits his defenders with his decreased workload; he has only had to save four or fewer shots in each of his last three games.

“The defense has been very successful in keeping the other team to very few chances,” the first-year starter said. “In most games the other team only gets one or two decent chances, and lately the chances have been fewer and less dangerous. We’ve been doing better every game leading up to NESCACs, so we’re hoping to keep the momentum going.”

Wesleyan’s next game is on the road against Conn College, a team fighting hard for seeding in the postseason. Conn currently sits in seventh place, but a win over the Cardinals on Wednesday, Oct. 30 could put the Camels up as high as a fifth seed for the playoffs.

A Cardinal win, however, could drop the Camels to eighth place. Wesleyan, having guaranteed itself an opening round home game, would also not finish below third with a win, and could go as high as second in the NESCAC with a Williams loss. A loss on Wednesday could pull the Cards down to fourth place, which would be the lowest seeding for Wes since 2010.

Despite the disparity in the standings, the Camels will be a tough opponent for the Cardinals, said McConnell.

“They have a lot of height and are a physical team,” McConnell said. “We lost last year, so we are really looking forward to beating them this time around.”

Earning home field advantage in the first playoff round is crucial for the Cardinals, particularly because of the way the University scheduled its autumn festivities: the opening soccer postseason game falls on Nov. 2, right in the middle of Wesleyan’s Homecoming and Parents Weekend.

McConnell refuses to get too far ahead of himself looking into the future. At the same time, he recognizes the importance of playing surrounded by friendly concrete confines of the Center for the Arts.

“We know that having the home game during Homecoming is going to give us a lot of momentum,” McConnell said.

Wesleyan will look to get some help from the return of leading shot-taker Brandon Sousa ’16 on Wednesday; he missed Saturday’s game due to a one-game suspension after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season.

With Sousa back and the team’s first-round playoff advantage secured, the Cards will be squarely focused on exacting revenge for their 1-0 loss against the Camels in 2012.

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