Eagles slay Navy as first victim in PL season opener
Llerena nets game-winning goal at Reeves
According to the roster he was the smallest player on the field, but what the roster doesn't say is that he also has one of the biggest hearts on the team. One wouldn't have known it, though, because Freddy Llerena played so much bigger than the 5 feet 7 inches he is listed as on the roster.
The AU Men's Soccer team beat the Naval Academy Midshipmen Wednesday afternoon at Reeves Field, 1-0, but the show didn't really begin until Llerena stepped onto the field 20 minutes into the second half.
The junior midfielder's game overshadowed the return of fellow midfielder Gordon Templeman's to the starting lineup. Templeman, who was a huge factor in the Eagles' efforts last year,, hadn't started a game this year, and his return was a sigh of relief for many Eagles fans.
With the whole team intact, the Eagles started the game sluggishly. The Midshipmen came out of the gate with a burst of energy and at times looked as if they were going to have a chance to steal a victory from a tired Eagles squad.
"Last year I thought we completely dominated them and then lost 1-0, and then this year we didn't play well but we won 1-0," said AU head coach Todd West. "I just said, 'Let's take the win and get out of here.' I think they're still tired from the road trips and we had to just will this one."
That changed very quickly when senior defender Nick Zaron pushed forward and found the ball bouncing around at the top of the penalty box 15 minutes into the first half. Zaron struck it toward the lower left corner of the goal, and only a diving save from Navy goalie Frank Difilippo kept the Eagles off the scoreboard.
Twenty minutes later,, forward Sean Albright made a nice run down the right wing and put in a cross to Sal Caccavale who laced the ball just a few inches over the crossbar.
Navy continued to push forward though, and just before half earned a corner when AU's Nathan Baker knocked a dangerous cross out of bounds. The AU defense was solid all day, even though the pressure was sporadic.
"The back four were outstanding; against Old Dominion and William & Mary they were great," West said. "We aren't giving our opponents many chances, they just always keep going strong." The Midshipmen weren't able to capitalize on the effort as AU goalkeeper Thomas Myers came out to grab the ball and end the threat. Myers finished the game with three saves and had a rather quiet day for the most part.
AU continued to press forward throughout the second half, and after many near misses Llerena got the Eagles a victory in their Patriot League opener. Entering the game at 66:56, Llerena put home the game winner five minutes later.
"It felt great, it always feels great to score a goal, especially if it's the game-winning goal. It was just being in the right place at the right time," Llerena said. "Coming off the bench, you hear what the coaches say, and I made a point to have an impact on the game, whether it be talking or playing. I just tried to bring in what the coaches wanted to see."
The goal came off a corner kick from sophomore Garth Juckem. Juckem, who had a solid game, hit the cross to the penalty kick spot. Navy 'keeper Difilippo made an effort to get to the ball but it was too late. He wasn't able to catch it, and Llerena capitalized on the chance and buried it in the lower left net.
"The energy's important, especially against a team like Navy. The energy's key to always keep the team moving, even when we're at home, you just have to keep going," Juckem said. "We definitely want to attack, we're a ball-moving team and we don't want to change anything. We don't want to sit back, even when we're winning."
Navy wasn't done though, as the last eight minutes were restless ones for the Eagles. The Midshipmen continued to push toward the goal and started shooting from everywhere. Myers was up to the challenge though, and when he snared Navy's fourth corner kick of the year with 30 seconds left the Eagles had secured the win.
AU will next see action when it goes up against Lehigh on Saturday at 7 p.m.