On an unusually hot day, and in a near-cloudless sky, the Slippery Rock University men’s soccer team put a halt on a two-game, season-opening losing streak by beating the heat and picking up its first win of 2018.
The team put together a solid performance on both the offensive and defensive ends, producing a 2-0 shutout victory over Salem International University of the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Entering the contest 0-2-0, interim head coach Kevin Wilhelm felt it was essential that his players pull out a result.
“It was extremely important,” Wilhelm said. “Getting a result today was huge for our soul, for our spirit, for our character, and letting these guys know that they’re continuing to progress and doing things the right way. Sometimes you need a win to get that positive affirmation and the guys definitely did it today.”
For much of the first half, The Rock controlled possession and peppered Tiger goalie Wiktor Stawski with shots. The offensive threat, as it had against in the team’s prior game against Lake Erie, started off early. In the fourth minute, senior midfielder Justin Minda generated a firm shot at Stawski, who smacked the ball away with his right hand. Freshman defender Mohsen Kanani headed the ball on the ensuing corner kick, but the shot floated wide of Stawski’s domain.
The eleventh minute saw senior midfielder George Oakley fire a free kick that bounced just wide right of the Tiger’s post. Less than ten minutes later, the Rock men were able to get a trio of aggressive shots off, junior forward Luke Picchi’s flying over, Alex Vilchek’s deflecting off the crossbar, and Nick Sodini’s being blocked.
After one of ten fouls that Salem would commit in the first period, George Oakley was granted a penalty kick in the 38th minute.
“[I was just thinking] score. Don’t miss. I thought it would be good to get the first of the game and bring a lead into halftime […] I was happy at halftime, definitely,” Wilhelm said of connecting into the bottom left corner, past Stawski’s outstretched hand.
The Rock’s ball control carried over to the second half, as Minda extended the lead in the 55thminute before Salem could even register its third shot of the game. The score was another ball dribbling into the left corner, a product of tremendous passing and an assist from Vilchek.
Rock goalkeeper Matt Hunsberger needed only to make one more save in the game’s 35 minutes to preserve the win. Making three total, the junior recorded the first shutout of his career.
The Green and White allowed eight shots—a mere two of them on goal—while delivering 20, the most in a game for the team since October of 2014, when it tallied 27 in a game at Pitt-Johnstown.
Wilhelm was happy with the team’s overall performance and gradual improvement, both defensively and offensively.
“We moved the ball much better than we have, our closing of spaces was much better, our defensive organization stepping out of the back was much better. Our interplay off of our forwards was better. It was just all-around,” Wilhelm said. “All of those things just came together and we were very complete for once[…]and we haven’t been complete yet like we were today.”
The team will look to continue with its newfound momentum in a matchup at Ashland on Saturday afternoon.