For the fourth time in five years, the Wesleyan men’s soccer team will advance to the NESCAC semifinals following its 1-0 defeat of Conn. College on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The Cardinals’ big break came midway through the second half when Brandon Sousa ’16 sent a nifty cross from the right side to Max Jones ’16. Jones beat one defender with a quick step to his right. As Conn. keeper Max Nichols rushed Jones to cut off his angle, Jones saw an opening and directed his shot past Nichols on the ground, finding the back-left corner of the net. The goal proved to be the game-winner and Jones’s first of the year, and Sousa recorded his third assist on the play.
Though the Cards held the advantage on the scoreboard, Conn. outshot Wesleyan 11-9 and held the edge in corner kicks 7-4. The two teams were even with five saves and 14 fouls apiece.
Neither team had fantastic opportunities through the first 70 minutes of the match, trading neutral zone takeaways without mounting a serious threat. Both squads highlighted their stifling team defense, forcing the offenses to work for any chance to break through.
Captain Daniel Issroff ’15 was pleased with his team’s play, especially after seeing a weaker effort against the same Conn. squad earlier in the week that resulted in a 1-0 overtime victory in New London in the team’s regular season finale.
“I think despite the evenness statistically we always felt in control of the match,” Issroff said. “The support from the fans was tremendous and I think that the home environment definitely helped us get the result. It was much different at their place on Wednesday, when I thought they outplayed us. Ultimately, this time the pressure tolled, and it was a moment of real quality from our guys that made the difference.”
Chris Kafina ’16 had a decent scoring chance seven minutes into the game as he ripped a shot from the left side, but Nichols was unscreened and able to slide to his right to catch the shot.
Netminder Emmett McConnell ’15 tallied his seventh shutout of the season. He stifled one of the Camels’ two best chances of the afternoon. Just eight minutes after Wesleyan’s goal, the Camels had a curving corner kick that looked sure to soar into the net, but McConnell threw his fist in the air and punched the ball over the net. Prior to this, the Camels created a chance off a similar corner kick, but this time the ball beat the keeper but clanked off the crossbar; it was swiftly cleared by Wesleyan’s rock solid defense.
McConnell was the only goalie to register a shutout in the first round of the playoffs this year. He and the Cardinal defense have played their last 437 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal, and they will look to continue that streak this weekend against Williams.
Third-seed Williams downed sixth-seed Middlebury last Saturday 3-2; Wesleyan and Williams will travel to Amherst this weekend where the Jeffs will host the remainder of postseason play. Amherst will face off against fifth-seeded Bowdoin, which was the only lower seed to win last weekend in the men’s tournament. Bowdoin, however, allowed two goals in the final eight minutes of regulation to Tufts, including the tying goal with 37 seconds left. The Polar Bears finally won on penalty kicks.
The Cardinals are looking for more production out of Kafina in order to earn the NESCAC crown. He registered three goals and two assists in his first two games of the year but has not had a point since then. Kafina must play to his potential if Wesleyan wants to beat either of its Little Three foes in the next two rounds of play.
Wesleyan will also look for an increased role on the part of Issroff, who missed eight games after he suffered appendicitis midway through the year. After a shockingly fast five-week recovery, Issroff was back on the field this week, registering two shots on goal in the team’s regular season finale.
“It’s felt great to be back on the field,” Issroff said. “I’m just happy to be able to contribute and help the team progress. Obviously I’m not 100 percent fit, and I’m probably still lacking a bit of sharpness, but hopefully I’ll have the chance to work on that for next weekend.”
As the Birds look forward to their semifinal match next Saturday, Nov. 9 against Williams, they’ll look to improve on their weak effort against the Ephs earlier this year, a 2-0 home loss.
They’ll have to slow down Eph striker Mohammed Rashid, who converted one of his four shots on goal against the Cardinals in their first go-around and had two of Williams’s three goals against Middlebury last weekend. Rashid is typically the fastest player on the field at any given point and is unafraid of physical contact as he barrels toward the net.
Issroff recognizes the advantage that Rashid, the reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year, gives his team, but thinks his squad can neutralize the threat.
“Rashid is one of the top strikers in the league, and definitely the focal point of their attack,” Issroff said. “He’s got a lot of pace and trickery, but I think we’re well equipped to deal with him. We’ve really tightened up defensively since we played them, and having seen him once already, I think now we know that we can’t afford to give him any space.”
Wesleyan will have to defy history if they have any intention of winning the conference crown. The Cards have just two Little Three wins in the NESCAC playoffs, both of which came in 2005 as they defeated Williams en-route to beating Amherst in the conference final.
The winner of the game between the Cards and Ephs will play the winner of the Amherst/Bowdoin game. The Cards lost 1-0 in a tight October match against Amherst and handily defeated Bowdoin 3-1 in their first NESCAC game of the year back in September.