The men’s soccer team was eliminated from NESCAC playoff contention last Saturday, Nov. 9, in a 2-1 loss to Little Three rival Williams. Wesleyan’s season ended in NESCAC play for the first time since 2010. The team made the Division III national tournament both of the past two seasons; the Cardinals did not receive an at-large bid this year.
Williams went out in front early in the match, with a goal from reigning NESCAC Player of the Week Mohammed Rashid. Rashid was priority number one for the Wesleyan defense, but the Cardinals were unable to stop him in the 34th minute of this match.
Jonathon Westling subbed in for Williams as a forward in the 30th minute and made the difference-making assist on the goal. He brought the ball to the right side of the penalty box, fighting through a standing tackle from defender Ben Toulotte ’16. Westling beat a second challenge and sent a pass to the fleet-footed Rashid. Rashid received the pass and cut the defense, then lasered his shot past netminder Emmett McConnell ’15 to put Williams ahead for good.
The goal broke McConnell’s streak of 470 scoreless minutes of goaltending, spanning six games and including four shutouts.
Wesleyan was not without scoring opportunities of its own. The Birds had what looked like the best opportunity of the half in the 26th minute, when Brandon Sousa ’16 sent a lob pass from the midfield in to Chris Kafina ’16. Kafina plowed past a defender before pounding a shot towards the net that was deflected away by an Eph defender.
Williams, though, held the momentum on its side through much of the opening half. The team almost converted a circus play into a score when Eph Malcolm Moutenot chipped a ball over a Wesleyan defender before nutmegging another defender and putting a through ball to Rashid, whose shot was cleared quickly, preserving the then-scoreless tie.
In the closing moments of the half, Charlie Gruner ’17 had a remarkable chance to catch the Ephs off guard when they had mentally already checked out to the halftime break. Gruner stole a ball in his own end and dribbled all the way through the midfield untackled and fired a shot on the Eph keeper Peter Morrell’s net as the defenders finally awoke and closed in on him. Gruner’s shot sailed inches above the crossbar, and the Cards remained down 1-0 at the half.
In the 68th minute, the Cardinal faithful’s hearts sunk momentarily as Westling sent a cross through the middle to the streaking Rashid yet again, but McConnell, this time, came up with the save.
Omar Bravo ’15 had a beautiful play nine minutes later that again looked like it could be an equalizer. Hans Erickson ’16 carved through the Eph D and sent a juicy pass to Wesleyan’s junior attacker. Bravo beat the back line of defense and avoided an offside call as he aimed for the far corner of the net. Morrell made a miraculous save when he threw his foot out and kicked the ball wide of the net, keeping his shutout intact.
Rashid came up with his seventh point of the first two games of the playoffs in the 83rd minute when he set up a give-and-go with Matt Muralles, who put home his first goal of the postseason. Williams took the 2-0 lead.
Wesleyan refused to give an inch, though, and came out with guns blazing after the second goal. The Cards converted just two minutes later when captain Danny Issroff ’15 set up a play for Sousa to convert the first goal of his playoff career. Issroff deked a defender and laid off a short pass to Sousa, who took the pass and sent a curling right-footed shot past Morrell to cut the deficit in half.
Keeping their feet on the gas, the Cardinals were inches away from a buzzer-beating equalizer after Matt Lynch ’15 caught a free kick with his head and sent it towards the net in the closing moments. The ball sailed over the net, and the horn sounded to end the game and the Cardinal season with it.
Williams, for the second straight year, lost to Amherst in the NESCAC finals, after the Jeffs emerged 2-1 double overtime victors over Bowdoin. Both other Little Three members will represent the NESCAC in the DIII tournament. The Cards finished the season 9-6-1.
Prospects look good for the men’s soccer team, though, which is losing just one senior to graduation. Meanwhile, standouts McConnell, Issroff, Ben Bratt ’15, and Spencer Tanaka ’15 will all be hungry for NESCAC and Little Three titles in their final year at Wes.