The men’s soccer team needed a win Sunday against Dayton to have a chance at reaching the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament. Early last week, the Owls tied Fordham and Xavier, washing away any hope for the Owls to control their own playoff destiny.
Entering the final day of the regular season, three teams were tied for the final two spots in the six-team tournament.
The Owls took care of their business, shutting out the Flyers, 1-0, at Ambler Field. Even with the win, they needed either Charlotte or Massachusetts to lose in order to squeeze into the postseason.
The 49ers and Minutemen both won, leaving the Owls on the outside looking in.
The A-10 runner-up each of the last two seasons, the Owls did what they could to give themselves another crack at the conference title. The Owls matched an aggressive Flyers team and held UD’s top player, senior Omar Jarun, scoreless.
“They are a handful,” coach David MacWilliams said of the Flyers. “Defensively, we played very solid.”
The lone goal of the match was scored in the 22nd minute. On Senior Day, senior mid-fielder Tony Donatelli scored his team-leading sixth goal by waltzing around a Flyers defender and lobbing a shot over the head of Dayton goalkeeper Steve Ladislaw.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed from Friday, and I wanted to get one for the team,” Donatelli said.
Donatelli was referring to his missed scoring chance versus the Musketeers, when he had an opportunity to win the game in the closing minutes, but missed the net.
“I owed [my teammates] one,” he said.
The game got tight in the second half. The Flyers, in search of the tying goal, applied pressure and played more aggressively. Hard tackles were a common occurrence, along with some pushing and shoving after the whistle.
An altercation in the 70th minute between players from both teams resulted in a yellow card being issued to Owls junior midfielder Ryan Heins after he made a hard tackle. A foul was called, and a Flyers player grabbed Heins’ jersey. Heins retaliated, and received the card.
The call did not sit well with Heins.
“It definitely was a foul, but the ref wasn’t paying attention,” Heins said. “It was a yellow because he said I got up in the kid’s face when, in reality, the kid got up and pulled me toward him. [The foul] was very 50-50.”
The Owls wrapped up their season with a 6-10-1 (4-3-1 A-10) record, coming up just short in their postseason bid. MacWilliams said he liked what he saw out of his team in the last handful of games.
“In the last five games we haven’t had a loss and we really battled,” he said. He added that he was more pleased with his team’s performance at the end of the season than the beginning.
Heins shared a similar opinion.
“Everyone started to come together at the end of the season, and it was the right time to come together,” he said.
Prior to the game, the team honored their five departing seniors. Donatelli, defensemen Joe Brocker and Tim Greer, midfielder Ben Evans, and forward Kevin Gallagher presented bouquets of flowers to their parents, while teammates spoke briefly and wished them well.
In the moments leading up to the game, the team was intense, Greer said.
“Everybody came out knowing it was do or die, knowing [we had to play] 90 minutes hard,” he said.
Looking back on the A-10 season, Greer said mishaps hurt the Owls.
“At times we shot ourselves in the foot, and there were a couple of double-overtime games that we should have pulled out, but ended up tying,” he said. “But I knew what we had as a team, and we competed.”
Following his final game, Donatelli thanked his coaches and teammates for their help, and said he had a “great time.”
MacWilliams was grateful of the seniors’ contributions to the soccer program over the last four years.
“They all left a piece of themselves on the field today,” MacWilliams said. “They’ll always be a part of this program.”
Dan Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.