It was week of highs and lows for the men’s soccer team, which did its best Cyclone impression by pairing a clunker against middling Muhlenberg College with a win over Salisbury University on the strength of a late goal from sophomore midfielder Kevin McCartney.
The Lions (5-9) ended a five-game losing streak with their 1-0 win over the Sea Gulls, a team that has broken in and out of the national rankings this season, despite a performance not necessarily better than what the team put forward in previous games.
“I would say we probably had more opportunities in other games and didn’t stick them away and today it just happens to go in, and it winds up being a 1-0 win,” head coach George Nazario said.
The result was another reminder of the importance of scoring first, as it improves the Lions to 3-0 when they score the opening goal and leaves them 2-9 when they do not.
“When we score first it gives us confidence to play better as a team,” McCartney said. “It boosts the morale of the team (and) makes us play better overall.”
“It’s always easier to play with the lead,” Nazario said.
Goalscoring opportunities were few and far between until the second half, when freshman goalkeeper Mike Libucha was called upon to make a pair of saves and the Lions threatened several times themselves.
Senior midfielder Kevin Shaw put senior Sean Casey in behind the Salisbury backline for a preview of the goal, which came in the 85th minute when Shaw threaded a perfectly weighted ball past three Salisbury defenders and into the path of an on-rushing McCartney.
“I saw Shaw get the ball, turn quick and I saw an opening down the middle,” McCartney said. “I had to make that run, and he played it to me perfectly.”
McCartney is naturally a technical midfielder who Nazario has put up top for the Lions in an effort to create more goalscoring opportunities.
“Originally I was an advanced midfielder, and the past two or three games (Nazario’s) played me up as forward to try and hold the ball up, create more opportunities, (and) get the ball moving,” McCartney said.
The move paid dividends with the dramatic winner, a slick interchange between Shaw and McCartney which put on display the understanding between the team’s attacking players.
“I can connect with them well,” Shaw said. “It’s easy to read the game when you’re on the field, they know what I’m thinking and I know what they’re thinking. It’s just a matter of, in the final third, finishing our chances.”
The win over Salisbury could not have been much different the nightmarish first half against Muhlenberg a few days earlier, when the Lions fell behind 3-0 in the team’s worst 45 minutes of the season.
“There was a pretty strict half-time talk,” McCartney said.
Senior defender Vince McEnroe and Casey made it a close game by scoring in the second half, with McEnroe ending a teamwide 422-minute scoreless streak and both goals providing scoreboard evidence there was improvement in the second half.
“We just wanted to come out with motivation and we couldn’t go out losing at our home field 3-0,” McCartney said. “There was a little bit more urgency, a will to try and come back into the game.”
The end result was a disappointing loss, though, and despite Saturday’s win the Lions are four games below .500 with four games remaining in the season.“I think we technically still have a chance to make the playoffs, so we just got to come out as hard as we can,” McCartney said. “We (have) to stay composed and be confident in our strategy and the way we play.”