Down by an initial goal in the Patriot League quarterfinals, the AU men’s soccer team battled rainy conditions yesterday before sloshing to a strong 4-1 victory.
The team secured the third seed in the Patriot League tournament after a 2-2 tie against Lehigh University over the weekend. AU’s position in the tournament resulted in Tuesday’s game at home against No. 6 Army. The teams previously met on Oct. 17 and played to a 0-0 draw, however Tuesday afternoon’s affair yielded significantly more offense and scoring.
The Eagles (13-4-3, 6-2-2 PL) attacked hard early, but the Black Knights (5-8-3, 3-4-3 PL) struck first on a breakaway midway through the first half. Junior forward Nick Williams slipped through the AU defense, sidestepped AU senior goalkeeper Dylan Hobert to the left and slotted home the game’s first goal with ease. However, only two minutes later, AU equalized the score, with junior defender Chris Fanet diving to nod home a header off a free kick from senior midfielder Liam Robley inside the near left post.
Robley’s assist, his 11th of the year, places him third in the nation in that category and earned the praise of head coach Todd West after the game.
“We work on set pieces every week, Liam Robley is one of the best in the country, and we’ve got some guys that can get on the end of them,” West said. “I thought the goal that Chris Fanet scored, the diving header, was world-class and a great response to going down a goal early.”
Tied at halftime, the Eagles pulled ahead at the start of the second half when junior midfielder Dale Ludwig broke the deadlock with a strike from the top of the box for his third goal of the season after Army failed to clear a free kick cleanly. Just over 15 minutes later, sophomore forward Vinny Barone deflected in a cross from junior forward Kibu Mbaluku to make it 3-1 in favor of AU. Robley notched the final goal by converting on a late penalty kick after an Army defender handled the ball in the box, putting AU ahead by three with 15 minutes to play and limiting the possibility of an Army comeback.
The Eagles dictated much of the pace and direction of the game, outshooting the Black Knights by a margin of 21-6 and recording nine corner kicks, compared to Army’s one. Most of AU’s best chances came within the Army penalty box, and West said he encouraged the team to play near the box because of the weather conditions and difficulty handling the ball on wet fields.
“The only thing we might have changed a little in the second half was just that we might be a little more direct as that half of the field [we were attacking] is really heavy and holding water,” West said. “So we said if we bypass that, we can play a lot in their 18 [yard box] and maybe there will be some mistakes and take advantage of them.”
After ousting Army from postseason play, the Eagles will move on to the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament to play the second-seeded Boston University Terriers on Nov. 13 in Hamilton, N.Y. The winner of the Friday’s contest advance to the championship game to face the winner of the other semifinal match between Lehigh University and top seed and tournament host Colgate University, with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
AU battled Boston earlier this year on Oct. 1 at Reeves Field and fell to the Terriers 1-0. The game marks the last time the Eagles suffered a loss.
West said he plans to rest his players in preparation for the next stage of the tournament because the team only has three days between the matches.
“The next few days will be really light,” West said. “The guys who played a lot will likely do a pool recovery work out and the guys who didn’t play a lot will do a light training session and then we’ll train up at Colgate on Thursday.”