Eagles fall 0-1 to Big Red
AU Men's Soccer's home opener against Cornell (1-3) looked like a mismatch on paper.
When Cornell mid-fielder Tom Marks was ejected just a few seconds into the second half, the road to victory seemed even easier. And when junior AU 'keeper Thomas Myers saved Cornell defender Scott Palguta's penalty kick minutes later, the Eagles appeared to escape a major mistake unharmed.
But Palguta followed his rebound, and finished crisply past Myers on the second chance, scoring the only goal in Cornell's 1-0 win. Now the Eagles know how deceiving appearances can be, with their 3-4-1 record.
"I think we looked at Cornell's record and didn't respect the game," said AU Coach Todd West afterward. "No matter who you play, you have to show up and play the game. This was the worst home performance by an AU team in years."
AU had the advantage in shots (23-9) and shots on goal (12-6). But Cornell executed their game, closing down the center of the field and leaving the wings open. The Eagles struggled to take what was given to them, and rarely had quality opportunities.
After a scrappy first half, the Eagles had to think things would open up with Marks's ejection, which resulted from a second yellow card picked up in a scrap away from the ball. But in eerily similar circumstances to the D.C. College Cup finale against Georgetown, AU could not transform the man advantage into goals.
"They knew where we [were] going," said junior mid-fielder Shawn Kuykendall about Cornell's defense. "They packed it in [and] we made too many mental mistakes."
"I figured that's what we were going to see for much of the rest of the season," West said about Cornell's defensive posture. "We were a team of individuals today."
The biggest mistake came in the 53rd minute. Officials stopped the clock when Cornell coach Bryan Scales persisted in leaving the coaches box to argue with the near linesman. Referee Nate Clemens addressed Scales, who claimed the linesman had elbowed him. Clemens verbally threatened to eject Scales if he persisted, but took no action.
It was enough to distract AU. Just moments after the restart, junior defender Charlie Koniver conceded a penalty after tackling a Cornell attacker who carried on unimpeded into the penalty area. Myers made a brilliant save on Palguta's ensuing spot kick, diving low to his right. But Palguta remained calm, as Cornell had all afternoon, followed his shot and blasted the rebound home.
Then, AU made a comeback harder on themselves when junior forward Andrew Herman was ejected for clipping a Cornell defender in the calf in the 72nd minute, which earned him his second yellow.
Playing 10 on 10, AU struggled to generate quality chances. Sophomore mid-fielder Freddy Llerena came closest when his 20-yard effort labeled for the upper right corner was parried by Cornell 'keeper David Mahoney. But most late chances were more desperate than deliberate. West emptied his bench, searching for answers, even pulling AU's leading scorer, junior mid-fielder Peter Philipakos. But only questions came.
"If I had it to do again, I would've taken him out earlier," West said of substituting for Philipakos. "He dribbled too much today. But then again, the whole team did that."
The Eagles' midweek contest at Navy, its Patriot League opener, was postponed to next Tuesday at 4 p.m. Now, AU must rediscover the momentum it possessed a week ago and carry it into the conference season.
"It doesn't get any easier," West said. "But at this point, we certainly should be a desperate team."
"There's no excuse," Kuykendall said. By not playing Navy on Wednesday, "we should have been fresher. I can't speak for anyone else, but I didn't take this team lightly. We just didn't execute"