Explosive men’s soccer stays the course

Etheridge slips around a Ducks defender. (Tim Lee / Photo Emeritus)

Another week yielded another couple of impressive statements from the men’s soccer team.

The Lions (4-1-1) tied No. 3 Stevens Institute of Technology 1-1 last week before winning their first overtime game in 14 tries, with a 3-2 result over York College that ended on a golden goal from freshman Sean Etheridge.

For the Lions, drawing a talented Stevens squad in their home opener proved they can hang with the best in the country.

“Stevens is ranked third in (Division III) for a reason,” Etheridge said. “They played fast, smart and passionate soccer. That reason is why when we tied them, we were very happy.”

While eventually settling for a draw, the Lions had an opportunity to win the game after they opened the scoring in the 67th minute through sophomore midfielder Matt Ziegler.

After some slick combination play on the right flank, defender Sean Casey got open just outside the box and sent in a picturesque cross at the far post to Ziegler, who roofed a near-post finish for the first goal of his career.

The Ducks were playing textbook soccer the whole way, though, and they finally broke through in the 87th minute, thanks to a combination of luck and skill.

After the Ducks evaded high pressure in their own end and moved into the final third, a Lions center back missed the ball in a challenge 20 yards out from the goal, leaving a gap in the middle of the back line which Stevens sophomore Carson Pryor crashed through.

Pryor’s side-footed shot bounced off the post, back to his feet and into the net, forcing a pair of scoreless overtimes.

“Yes, we feel we should have beat them, but the game altogether was one (of) our most complete games,” Etheridge said. “We proved to our league and even (Division III) that we are a good team and we can compete with some of the best competition in the country. There are many positives we took out of that game and now we can only build from it.”

Similar themes persisted in the Lions’ home game against York on Saturday, as they coughed up a lead late in the game but ended up with a confidence-building result.

Senior forward Kevin Shaw netted his eighth goal of the season to open the scoring, and freshman midfielder Nick Costelloe gave the Lions a 2-0 lead immediately after halftime.

York clawed its way back into the game with a pair of goals after the 75th minute, including a penalty off a handball in the box that also left the Lions shorthanded.

The College recuperated, though, and pushed for a goal that eventually came off the foot of Etheridge in the 103rd minute.

“The goal was a complete team effort considering that we only had 10 men on the field,” Etheridge said. “I remember starting my run from the left side of the field and yelling to (senior defender) Dan Macmillian, who had the ball on the right side. He played a great ball over the top of the defense right into my path. I took a touch and then took a shot.”

York’s goalkeeper initially appeared to have Etheridge’s shot covered, but the ball got past him and trickled across the line for the Lions’ first overtime win in 14 tries dating back to early October 2010.

It was the Lions’ first win at home this year, and it put the crowd at the Soccer Complex on its feet.

“Winning at home is always one of the best feelings. Getting the game-winning goal in overtime is even a better feeling,” Etheridge said. “It was not our prettiest win, but a win is a win and we were very happy with the result.”

Shaw, Costelloe and Etheridge, all of Saturday’s scorers, have combined for 15 goals and four assists this season, and Etheridge’s fourth goal of the year capped off another successful performance on offense that keeps the Lions’ goals per game average above three.

“Our philosophy going forward is to be creative with our runs and passes,” Etheridge said. “The more creative we are in the final third of the field, the easier it is to break down the opponent’s defense.”

Offensive creativity for the Lions is at its peak when players are mixing it up and surprising their opponents.

“We also try to not do the same thing all game and make it predictable,” Etheridge said.  “Sometimes we play down the side and get a cross, and then other times we try to spring runs through the middle. It all depends on our opponent. We have a very offensively minded team and that is the reason why we have been so successful this season so far.”

Great performances from the back line and goalkeepers haven’t hurt, either.

The defense only allowed eight shots on goal this week, while sophomore goalkeeper Maciej Libucha and senior goalkeeper Aaron Utman each made two saves across both games to help the team stay undefeated in regulation.

The Lions play FDU-Florham this Wednesday, Sept. 18, before heading to Ramapo College on Saturday afternoon for their New Jersey Athletic Conference opener.