Men's Soccer Grinds Out Key Conference Win
Issue   |   Wed, 09/11/2013 - 00:32
Megan Robertson '15, Public Affairs Office

Confronting unfamiliar adversity in a rebuilding year — having lost five of 11 starters from last season — the men’s soccer team gritted out a 2-1 overtime victory over Middlebury this Saturday in the NESCAC opener.

After falling behind 1-0 on a questionable penalty kick late in the first half, the Jeffs responded with a spectacular goal from Greg Singer ’16 in the 64th minute, before Nico Pascual-Leone ’15 netted the decisive tally 3:34 into overtime.

“I thought Middlebury was a good, hard-earned NESCAC win,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “They were tough and made us work for every opportunity.”

Last season, the Jeffs routed Middlebury 4-0 in the NESCAC quarterfinals en route to their second straight conference title. Stung by the humiliating loss, Middlebury competed with extra tenacity in this year’s opener, challenging the Jeffs for every inch of grass in a physical battle.

“It was clear that Middlebury hasn’t forgotten how last year’s NESCAC playoff game went, and they fought the entire game,” Serpone said.

Even though the Jeffs struggled to sustain rhythm in possession, the home side dominated the early stages of a choppy first half, keeping the Panthers pinned in their end for long stretches.

The Panthers struck first blood, however, with a penalty-kick goal in the 42nd minute, stunning the favored hosts. Sending a dangerous free kick into the 18-yard-box, the Panthers drew a foul in the ensuing scramble for the ball, allowing Harper Williams to score from the penalty spot.

“As far as our team goes, we need to do a better job of not giving up any needless fouls,” Serpone said. The Jeffs committed 22 fouls in the match, compared to 14 for Middlebury.

In the second half, the Jeffs raised the tempo on offense, outshooting the Panthers 10-2 in the 45- minute session. In the 55th and 57th minutes, Pascual-Leone and Ben Norton ’14 each had close-range headers that narrowly missed the target.

Continuing to keep Middlebury on the defensive, the Jeffs finally broke through with an equalizer in the 64th minute. After Jeffs’ goalie Thomas Bull ’16 launched a booming free kick from midfield, Pascual-Leone sent a looping header to the right side of the box. Sprinting to reach the airborne ball, Greg Singer ’16 drilled a swinging volley on the fly, burying the ball in the lower left corner of the net.

While Amherst did not generate many clear-cut scoring chances in the final 25 minutes of regulation, the Jeffs continued to wear down the Middlebury defense with an endless stream of corner kicks and long throw-ins.

Three minutes into overtime, the Jeffs’ attacking persistence finally paid off when Pascual-Leone stabbed home a loose ball near the goal mouth 3:34 into sudden-death overtime. After Max Fikke ’14 launched a long throw-in from the left sideline, Norton flicked a header into the center before Pascual-Leone — a bench substitute in 2012 — nailed home the golden goal.

Before playing Middlebury, the Jeffs opened their season with a 4-1 win over New England College last Wednesday. Stunned after conceding a corner-kick goal in the 9th minute — (Amherst allowed only three goals in 20 matches last year) — the Jeffs recovered nicely, scoring two goals in each half to put away the Pilgrims.

Pascual-Leone knotted the game at 1-1 in the 25th minute before first-year Elliott Cassutt ’17 buried a loose ball 1:12 before halftime. The game remained a tight one-goal affair until speedy forward Christopher Martin ’17 scored two quick goals in the 78th and 80th minutes to seal the result.

“It’s a new year. We didn’t trail once all season last year and eight minutes into the New England College game we were down 1-0,” Serpone said. “Soccer has a funny sense of humor. I was glad how we responded in that match against a really well coached team.”

The Jeffs will travel to Curry College for a nonconference game tonight before taking on Bowdoin at Hitchcock Field this Saturday. The Polar Bears dropped their first game 3-1 to Wesleyan, but remain a potentially dangerous opponent after finishing 5th in the NESCAC standings last year.

“As far as improvements I think we just need some time to get to figure out who we are this season in terms of personnel,” Serpone said. “Guys are playing in different spots with different guys around them and it’s going to take a little time for us to gel. I’m confident it will come together with a few more games under our belts but we’ve got to keep having good practices and staying present in the process.”