Going into the final game of the regular season Sunday, the only thing on the collective mind of the men’s soccer team was to win.
And they did exactly that.
With a 1-0 win over La Salle, the Owls improved their record to 10-4-4 overall and 6-1-2 in Atlantic Ten Conference play.
“I think we’re playing with a lot more confidence,” coach Dave MacWilliams said. “The guys stepped up and played well.”
With the win Sunday, the Owls finished second in the conference and earned a bye in the A-10 Tournament. The Tournament runs from Nov. 13 – 16 and is hosted by Duquesne in Pittsburgh. Temple will begin play on the second day of action.
The No.2-seeded Owls will face off with the highest remaining seed, in all likelihood either No. 3 Dayton or No. 4 Saint Louis.
Massachusetts and its 7-1-1 conference record took the top seed, with No. 5 Fordham and No.6 Rhode Island rounding out the playoff picture.
“The most important thing is that we get an extra day. We don’t have to play three games in four days,” MacWilliams said. “These guys have really played hard and battled, and we want to make sure we’re set for the playoffs.”
Junior forward J.T. Noone agrees with MacWilliams that the extra day of rest is important because “playing three games in four days [will] wear on your body. We’re in a very good position with the first-round bye,” he added.
The Owls got that bye with their win over the Explorers, as the game’s only goal came off the foot of Noone during a penalty shot.
“I knew if it went in,” Noone said, “that it would probably be the difference.”
Noone was selected to take the penalty shot after a battle inside the box between the two teams. Temple junior forward Mike Puppolo forced the foul, which resulted in a penalty shot against La Salle goalkeeper Kyle Quigley.
Not only did the goal from Noone win the game, but a collective team effort on defense helped seal the victory.
“I think La Salle played tremendous today, and I think they are a good team,” MacWilliams said. “But I think our guys are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Time after time when La Salle attacked, the Owls shut them down by blocking shots, deflecting passes and denying the Explorers several attempts to set up in the offensive zone.
“We played with a lot of intensity. It was really difficult,” Noone said. “La Salle came out and played us hard. We have to give it to them.”
A key contributor to the win was sophomore goalkeeper Brett Mollon. Tallying his ninth shutout of the season, Mollon turned away La Salle’s five shot attempts.
“I just knew that if we had to win this game, I had to put up a zero,” Mollon said.
Mollon’s biggest save of the day came about seven minutes into the second half. With La Salle on the attack and it looking as if the Explorers were going to tie the game, Mollon dove into the air and knocked down the shot.
The Owls erupted in a cheer of “great save.”
“When the whole team’s behind you, it’s a real confidence booster for the goalkeepers,” Mollon said. “It’s a great way to end the season. There is no reason we can’t go all the way.”
Nick Hollenstein can be reached at email@example.com.