Forward’s scoring guides Owls to playoff berth

It took five games before Temple’s leading scorer Lukas Fernandes became a starter.

Junior forward Lukas Fernandes controls the ball near Penn’s net during the Owls’ double overtime tie with Penn on Tuesday at the Temple Sports Complex. | JUSTIN OAKES / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Lukas Fernandes was frustrated. 

Motivated to get the playing time he felt he deserved, he went to talk to his coach.

Coach Brian Rowland told Fernandes he needed to improve — his defense wasn’t strong enough to earn a starting spot. After honing his defensive skills and scoring a game-winning goal on Saturday, he’s now played a big part in clinching a spot in the conference tournament.

“I was just taking every session, every drill we do that includes defense, and going as hard as I possibly could,” Fernandes said. “Because if you train hard, you’re going to play hard.”

Rowland noticed his improvements and five games into the season on Sept. 8, Fernandes earned his first start of the season and just the third of his college career. Since then, he started every game and became the Owls’ (5-8-4, 2-3-1 American Athletic Conference) leading scorer with 16 points.

“Lukas has been a good, bright spot,” Rowland said. “He is one of the guys when I first got here that really turned a corner maybe from years past. I kind of took him a little bit to get back on track after preseason, but I think it clicked and he certainly has taken on a bigger role on the team.”

While improving defensively, Fernandes has become the Owls’ offensive leader this season. On Saturday, he scored his team-leading sixth goal to propel Temple to a 1-0 victory against Tulsa. The win clinched the Owls a spot in the conference tournament.

Fernandes leads Temple in six offensive categories — goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, shots and shots on goal. With six goals, Fernandes is fourth in The American. 

Fernandes’s 41 shots more than doubled the number of shots as senior midfielder Hermann Doerner and sophomore forward Justin Hahn, who are tied for second on the team with 19 shots. Fernandes’ shot total ties him for fourth in The American. 

“He’s honestly one of the best guys to play with,” Hahn said. “He’s very creative on and off the ball, and especially being up top, he gives you a lot of options to create the chances and that’s why he’s getting a lot of these results.”

Utilizing Fernandes’s creativity on the pitch has opened up Temple’s scoring. In the first four games where Fernandes was a substitute, the Owls averaged 0.5 goals per game. Since then, Temple has scored an average of 1.08 goals per game. 

Fernandes’s creative play helps improve his defending, Rowland said. Part of Rowland’s style of play relies on each player aggressively defending. When a forward like Fernandes wins the ball, it typically means the team takes over possession closer to its opponents’ goal because the forwards are in higher position on the field.

“Any defensive moments that cause turnovers for us in our attacking half can lead quicker to goals,” Rowland said. “All of our players need to be good defenders so that we can hopefully put pressure on teams and force them into mistakes in their half.”

As one of the best assets Fernandes said he developed over years of competing and watching soccer, he sees his resourcefulness with the ball at the top. He has played soccer for as long as he can remember. Because his parents are from Brazil, soccer has been an integral piece of his life since he was little. 

“I remember just watching soccer with my parents growing up and how much joy it brought them,” Fernandes said. “It always made me so happy as a kid, watching them and watching the sport.”

Now, seeing his hard work and training finally come to fruition with a starting role, three game-winning goals and a berth in the postseason tournament, Fernandes is excited and grateful but knows there is room for improvement. 

“It’s the best I’ve been playing at Temple,” Fernandes said. “I’ve finally been given an opportunity to do what I like, to do what I love every day, and it is so refreshing.”

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