c/o Wesleyan Athletics

c/o Deirdre Allinson

The Wesleyan men’s soccer season got off to a strong start on Sept. 6 as the Cards took on NYU at Citrin Field in their home opener. The Red and Black took down the Bobcats in a shutout 1–0 win, with the sole goal coming from forward Lucas Ruehlemann ’25 off a penalty kick 70 minutes into the game. 

Captain and defender Evan O’Brien ’24 was impressed with the showing.

“It was the first game of the year and a lot of kids started who have never started before, which I think helped us bring a sharp intensity,” O’Brien said. “Everyone thought we had something to prove. Everyone felt that they had to show their best foot in a big crowd that night. And I thought our defense played really well, didn’t let up a goal.”

Fueled by the momentum of the victory, the Cardinals entered their first NESCAC matchup of the season against Colby ready to put up a strong fight. But despite outshooting the Mules 13–4, the Cards failed to find the back of the net and the game ended in a 0–0 tie, which did not meet the team’s expectations for themselves.

“I think that signified we gotta work on offense a little bit,” forward Zack Burd ’25 said. “It wasn’t a loss, but I think the good thing is our team treated it like one, so that way we were able to have more energy and motivation moving forward into the next two non-conference games.”

c/o Steve McLaughlin

c/o Steve McLaughlin

That motivation from the tie had an immediate impact when Wes played Brandeis University on the road. The Cards took care of business with a 3–1 comeback win in which Ruehlemann scored two goals and midfielder Will Martin ’26 tacked on one more, the first of his collegiate career. 

“We were losing one to zero at halftime,” Burd said. “This right here was a moment where our team felt like we needed to rally. And in the second half we definitely did that, with Lucas scoring two goals. And then Will Martin sealed off the game with the third. I think that was a big turning point and momentum shifting [for] us, knowing we can score and knowing we can come back and win a game when we need.”

Their next game saw the Cardinals back on the road against Springfield College. Just like the previous game, Wesleyan failed to score in the first half, but in the 52nd minute, Ruehlemann notched what would be the deciding goal of a 1–0 win. Again, the defense shined in this matchup, only allowing Springfield to get two shots off, both saved by goalkeeper Mathis Blanc ’26.

On Sept. 23, Wes returned home to take on Trinity in their second NESCAC matchup of the season. The Bantams struck first in the 19th minute to take an early 1–0 lead, but only six minutes later, the Cards responded. Off a perfect cross into the box from midfield Aidan Fine ’27, Ruehlemann laced the ball into the upper right corner, tying the game at one apiece and giving the forward his fifth goal in as many games. Before the first half came to a close, the Red and Black struck again in the 41st minute, as O’Brien received a header from midfielder Dylan Clack ’27 and found the back of the net to give the Cards a 2–1 lead. Despite the momentum, Trinity knotted the score at two with a goal late in the second half which would turn out to be the final score. 

This tie was a setback for team morale, and a 0–2 loss to Hamilton the following day was salt in the wound, but the next weekend the Cards traveled to Medford, MA to take on Tufts, ready to shake off the previous week’s disappointment. The Jumbos were on a three-game winning streak and were as tough an opponent as any in the NESCAC. As was the case throughout the season, the defense was on point, and so was goalkeeper Josh Nadison ’26, who recorded his first start in goal and his first shutout as the Cards tied the Jumbos 0–0. Madison saved the potential game winner with 30 seconds to go, sealing the shutout for the defense.

“Tufts has always been one of the best teams,” Burd said. “We felt like we outplayed them. And so the fact that we went and tied them and felt like we should have won was a sign that like, maybe we didn’t win, but we’re back on the right track.”

The momentum of this potential turning point was stifled as Wes lost to No. 15 nationally ranked Middlebury 0–2 the following day. However, the next weekend the Cards faced Amherst with a chance to gain some much needed points. 

Neither team found the net in the first half, but in the 74th minute, Burd was awarded a freekick and capitalized on it, sending the ball screaming into the upper right corner to give Wes a 1–0 lead. With time winding down, the Mammoths refused to go quietly, and with 21 seconds left in the game, they scored to tie it at one. 

“I think that the Amherst game, along with the Tufts game, were some of our best results,” O’Brien said. “I think we should have beat Amherst. We let a goal with 20 seconds left to tie it up. Which obviously was a gut punch, because they’re one of the better teams. But I think we came out intense and played really hard. We should have won. But we’ll take a tie against one of the better teams in the country.”

Ruehlemann echoed that sentiment.

“I think it really brought to fruition what we were trying to accomplish throughout the season,” Ruehlemann said. “Just having the ability to go toe to toe with anyone. So I think that that game was massive, just in terms of grit and really pushing our team to be what we could be.”

While this series of ties could be disheartening, the Cards never lost sight of the objective and never stopped believing in their ability to win. With this mindset, Wes made the long trip to Maine to take on Bates. In the 21st minute, the Cards broke the tie as Joshwin Jennings ’27 connected for his first career goal to put the Red and Black up 1–0. Unlike the Amherst game, the defense hung on and shut out the Bobcats to secure the victory, Wesleyan’s first NESCAC win of the year.

“One thing I will pride us and our team on is that we actually finished that game,” Burd said. “One to zero held on to get the win. Maybe we could score more, but the fact that we held them off for the win is what to me, matters the most. It’s a direct improvement from the previous game, we made sure that they didn’t score.”

The wave of Red and Black continued rolling when the Cards traveled up to take on Williams the following weekend. 21 minutes into the game, Burd sent a freekick over the head of the Williams goalkeeper to get the Cards on the board 1–0. And as they had done so many times before, Wesleyan’s defense, led by O’Brien, made no mistakes shutting out the Ephs and securing a shared Little Three Title with Amherst. This was their best Little Three result since 2011.

“Williams, of course, actually winning, getting the chance to tie for the little three with Amherst, that was massive,” Ruehlemann said. “We got a goal and we also just grinded out a dub, which was super important for us getting a Little Three. We had slip ups throughout the year. So having the opportunity to actually stick out that game and get a win was super big.”

The last three games of the regular season were not ideal, as the Cards lost to Eastern Connecticut State University and Bowdoin, as well as tied 2–2 with Conn. College, but importantly, the Cards secured a playoff berth as the seventh seed in the NESCAC Championship.

The season ended on Oct. 28 with a 0–1 loss to Amherst in the NESCAC Quarterfinals, not the result that anyone was hoping for, but the year was not without its bright spots. 

O’Brien was recently named to the All-NESCAC First Team for his work on the defensive end, and Ruehlemann’s prolific scoring ability was rewarded with Second Team All-NESCAC honors. 

O’Brien has been the picture of consistency and excellence throughout his career, and this year was no different. For the second straight year, the captain started all 16 games and played all but 23 minutes for the entire season. He anchored the defense and led them to six shutouts this season and 17 over the course of his career. The presence of players like O’Brien will be missed on the field, but the future of the team is alive and well in the young players.

Last year, seven seniors graduated from the team. While in this way the team lost a great deal of veteran leadership, it made way for a large recruiting class to build the team back up. 

Forward Ruehlemann spoke to the strength of the young players.

“Freshman year there’s always a little bit of timidness and fear,” Ruehlemann said. “You’re coming into a whole new team, bottom of the totem pole again, but I think they all did well to transition. That’s testament to them, and also to the character of our team; we all have become friendly and familiar very fast.”

The Cardinals are committed to their team culture and to improving, and with young talents growing into established players, the future is bright.

“It [soccer] is a lot of what we talk about,” Ruehlemann said. “It is a lot of what encompasses our lives. So I think the fact that we’re all so dedicated and committed to it is very promising. As soon as the season ended, I think two days after, guys were in the gym, guys were playing soccer. It’s not that we just work really hard for those three months, like it very much is part of our lives.”

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

Erin Byerly can be reached at ebyerly@wesleyan.edu