Flashback to November 2012, Arcadia University: a seasoned Cardinal men’s soccer team, featuring two senior All-Americans, fell in penalties to Haverford College in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The loss came as a massive disappointment as a talented Wesleyan team, led by one of the program’s strongest senior classes, failed to advance beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in the team’s previous five appearances. That heartbreaker back in 2012 has cast a shadow over the program, as the team has come just short of clinching NCAA tournament berths for the past two seasons. Furthermore, since the loss in 2012, the Cardinals have overcome a one-goal-deficit only twice, both times against weaker opponents than Haverford.
Last Saturday afternoon the class of 2012 was avenged, as a late equalizer carried the Cardinals to a double overtime victory on the road at Haverford College. Both teams hit the ground running after the first whistle sounded. Haverford had two decent strikes off target and registered three corners in the first 10 minutes.
One of the best chances of the first half, however, came from the Cardinals’ Adam Cowie-Haskell ’18, who saw two balls fly into the back of the net, only to be called back by the officiating crew. In the first few minutes, Cowie-Haskell took a ball down with his chest, turned and finished, but the referee deemed that the striker used his arm to control the ball.
In the 48th minute, Cowie-Haskell handled a cross and a flicked in a header, beating the the Fords’ keeper with cool composure. However, after the finish (and several seconds of celebration), the referee ruled that Cowie-Haskell was offside on the play.
Just three minutes after the Cardinals’ thought that they had found the breakthrough, Haverford’s Sam Yarosh dribbled through Wesleyan’s penalty area, setting himself up for a point blank strike on the Cardinal’s net minder Jonas Katkavich ’17. Katkavich did very well to keep Yarosh’s chance out, but could not hold onto the stinger, parrying the ball into the path of Haverford’s Ben Field, who easily put the rebound in an open goal.
The Fords looked strong for the remainder of the half, posting two shots from striker William Edwards that forced two strong saves from Katkavich. The match was beginning to shape up like others over the past two seasons, particularly against quality opponents like Tufts, Amherst, and Williams, where the Cardinals were unable to find inspired, bold play that could overcome a deficit.
However, in the last 15 minutes of regulation, the shape of the game began to change.
“As time ran out, we were forced to become more direct,” Charlie Gruner ’17 said.
Although in past years Wesleyan soccer teams have prided themselves on their ball dominance and time of possession, the decision to be more direct (i.e., play longer, riskier, and attempt more attack-minded passes), absolutely paid off, opening up a game which had been dominated by fierce battles for possession in the midfield.
Daniel Rubenstein ’17 surged forward in the final minutes in pursuit of a goal. The move started with a throw-in from Max Jones ’16 on the left side of the attacking half, where he found Brandon Sousa ’16. Sousa carried the ball down the flank, taking on the Fords’ right back. He sole-rolled one way, before quickly cutting back the other way, putting the ball right through the defender’s legs. He then put in the cross low and hard, and it found Chris Kafina ’16. Kafina held off his defender well to lay off the rock to Rubenstein, who tucked one with his right foot into the bottom left corner. With only 1:34 left in the game, Rubenstein’s finish was nothing short of historic.
“It’s a strike that will go down in Wesleyan history,” Gruner said. “With one swing of his gifted right foot, Danny said, ‘Not today, Haverford.’”
Rubenstein’s game-tying goal deflated the Fords and inspired Wesleyan. The Cards dominated for the remainder of the game. Controlling the play throughout overtime, the Cardinals’ first chance in extra minutes came from Sousa, who fired a rocket that hit the post. The Fords still charged back with some chances of their own, forcing a massive, sixth save from Katkavich five minutes into the second overtime period. At long last, the Cardinals’ winner came in the 107th minute from Kafina, who had assisted on Rubenstein’s equalizer. The winner started with Sousa’s free kick, which found Gruner. Gruner then found striker Nick Hawkins ’19 in the penalty area, where he played a lovely ball across the face of goal that was finished emphatically by Kafina.
The Cardinals’ win was huge for the team as it turned around a poor start to the season against Eastern Connecticut. It was a come-from-behind win against a truly quality opponent in Haverford and showed a refreshing maturity and resilience in a previously unproven team. Looking ahead to another important out-of-conference tie in Tuesday’s match against John Jay at home, this group will be thinking that they might just be starting a new chapter (and perhaps even the beginning of a run to the NCAA postseason) after righting the wrongs of a fateful loss in November of 2012.