Spirit in the stands was not lacking on City Avenue on Saturday night, as the men’s soccer team rode the energy of the visiting Owls’ fans to a 2-1 victory over Saint Joseph’s. Despite a steady, pounding rain throughout the second half, the majority of fans remained passionate and stayed until the final buzzer.
“Whenever it’s a night game and a big crowd, you want to perform well,” senior midfielder Tony Donatelli said. “We fed off the energy of that crowd.”
Donatelli’s first-half goal got the Owls (4-10, 2-3 in the Atlantic Ten Conference) on the board against the Hawks. Junior forward David Suah provided what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the Owls’ second conference win.
With only four regular season games remaining, a sense of urgency is beginning to set in, coach David MacWilliams said.
“We can’t afford to lose any more games,” MacWilliams said. “Our backs are against the wall and we needed to win this one for us to have any shot at the playoffs.”
Donatelli scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season in the 34th minute to give the Owls a 1-0 lead. On the play, freshman midfielder Will Chevrollier served the ball over Hawks’ goalie Rob Lavorerio toward the open net, and Donatelli knocked it in for the game’s first goal.
The Owls practiced at Geasey Field at 15th and Norris streets this week to help the team get accustomed to the play of the ball on St. Joe’s artificial turf. The only difference, Suah said, was that the practice turf was dry.
The wet artificial surface at Finnesey Field was bouncy and slick, making things hard for both teams, Suah added.
“Everything was slipping – the ball, the ground – and you can’t establish balance,” Suah said. “You need balance in soccer, and the rain was making things worse.”
Donatelli’s goal in the first half was the game’s only score until the 78th minute, when Suah scored his first-ever goal with the Owls, padding their lead at 2-0. When Lavorerio came out to challenge the play, Suah lobbed a soft, high shot over his head and into the net.
Hawks’ midfielder Tommy Johnson’s goal in the 82nd minute cut the Owls lead in half, making what initially appeared to be an insurance goal by Suah the deciding score.
“If we didn’t win Saturday, we were done,” Suah said. “We needed the win to stay in postseason contention, and I was happy to score the game-winning goal.”
The Hawks (2-10-1, 0-5) had a number of chances to tie the game in the closing minutes, but senior defender Timmy Greer came up big for the Owls. With two seconds remaining, Johnson had an opportunity to tie the game. But Greer used his head to deflect the ball before it crossed the goalline.
Even in a winning effort, that close call did not sit well with MacWilliams.
“If we don’t head [that ball] off the line, it’s a tie game,” he said. “We could have easily been out of [trouble] if we just cleared the ball, but we [almost] shot ourselves in the foot.
The weather did not deter the fans, and it turned out to be no excuse for the Owls, either.
“The weather was bad, but it’s always good when you win,” MacWilliams said.
Senior defender Joe Brocker did not play on Saturday as he began serving a required three-game suspension for accumulating two red cards and five yellow cards in recent games. He is set to return Nov. 4 against Xavier.
Dan Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.