The Rock men’s soccer finally returned to the field on Thursday and played No. 25 Lake Erie College in a game that went 110 minutes. While this was The Rock’s first matchup in over 600 days, Lake Erie has seen some action in the past six months as they were able to play a spring season.
“It felt great [being back on the field], it’s exactly what our guys were craving since November 2019, when we got knocked out of the playoffs,” Coach Kevin Wilhelm said. “It’s been a very long wait and it’s been hard because a lot of the teams we play in the early part of the season played full conference schedules last year.”
Slippery Rock immediately set the tone for the game as Arturo Pla Hernandis got a shot off in the first 11 seconds of the game after he penetrated the defense of Lake Erie. The shot was fended off by the Storm’s goalie, Tom John, who made a spectacular save right out of the gates.
“It’s important for us to believe in the system, and the way our off the ball play and defensive set up was to create moments [like Pla Hernandis’] and getting the opportunity in the first minute of the game gives belief to the guys on the field,” Wilhelm said.
The Green and White earned a corner kick off that save, but nothing came of it. There was not another shot registered by either team until the 13th minute of the game. Over the next minute and a half, Slippery Rock went on the attack and took four shots with two on goal. John made two very good saves to keep the score even.
“Lake Erie is a very good team. You know if you’re ranked 25th in the nation, you’re going to face a strong team and the game plan was essentially just to not give anything away cheap, absorb pressure, and use their weakness against them,” Wilhelm said.
This is something that worked very well for The Rock, as the defense absorbed the pressure like Wilhelm mentioned. Lake Erie had multiple scoring chances with one of them going just wide of the goal. In the first half, things were dead even with there being four shots for each side and the score at the half was 0-0.
The second half was very physical and that resulted in nine fouls between both teams and there were also two yellow cards. Both were given to Slippery Rock players, with Joe Skillicorn receiving one in the 67th minute and Dan Schearer in the 71st minute.
The first goal didn’t come until the 83rd minute after The Rock was awarded a penalty kick. The kick was taken by Alejandro Fernandez, who sailed the ball into the top right corner. The goal broke the deadlock between the two teams and sent Lake Erie into all-out attack mode as they hoped to avoid a loss in the season opener.
“The feeling was that the goal was justified, and I believe the shot total at the end of the game was tied, but we had the better clear-cut opportunities,” Wilhelm said. “We had some golden opportunities throughout the game that if we were in better form if we had a season last year, or if we had a full schedule in the spring, you would think that a normal Slippery Rock team scores two or three of those chances no problem.”
The Green and White were immediately sent into defensive mode, trying to clear the ball while giving as few opportunities as possible. This approach worked up until the last 30 seconds of the game.
The Storm was awarded a free kick near midfield and they were able to capitalize. Tom Pearson, who had been substituted in only three seconds earlier, was able to beat Rock goalkeeper, Hossam Aly, and put the equalizer in the back of the net.
In the overtime periods, there were five shots in total and the only save was made by Aly, who ended with six saves. The Rock and Lake Erie played to a draw to open the season. The Rock returned to the field on Sunday, Sept. 5, against the University of Findlay and took home their first win of the season.
In the game, Aly recorded his first shutout of the season and he faced 13 shots with five being on target. And his five saves are a big reason why the Green and White walked away with the win. In total, Findlay outshot Slippery Rock 13 to 7.
The first goal of the game didn’t come until the 57th minute of the game and it came off an assist from Ramses Minaya to Alex Plimmer for his first of the season. The Rock got three more yellow cards in the game, which were given to Minaya, Pla Hernandis and Benjiman Trevino.
The Rock played their third game of the season against Walsh University on Sept. 8. The game was opened up quickly when Dominic O’Connor scored off an assist from Nathan Kolke just two minutes in. It would be the only goal scored in the first half, but Slippery Rock would immediately fight back taking two shots seconds after the Walsh goal.
The Green and White’s physical play this season has gotten them into some trouble. After Wednesday’s contest, they have been given seven yellow cards. Trevino was given his second yellow card of the season only 11 minutes in and Fernandez was also given his second in the 103rd minute. The Cavaliers led the game in yellow cards though. They received three in the game with the first coming at the 36-minute mark.
The rest of the first half was fairly quiet, but both teams had a few scoring opportunities. It wasn’t until the 73rd minute that a goal would be scored by Jake Cunningham, giving Walsh a 2-0 lead.
The Rock was unable to break through until the 87th minute when Minaya finally got them on the board. Just two minutes later, the game would be tied up by Schearer, and the game would enter overtime.
In the overtime periods, The Rock had four shots and kept the Cavaliers to just one. The teams would take all 20 minutes, though, and play to a draw. This is the Rock’s second draw in their first three games, and for Walsh, this is their first game where they add to the win column.
The Rock returns to action on Saturday, Sept. 11 at James Egli field to face off with Daemen College. Slippery Rock will be looking for their first home win of the season against a 1-1 team.