For the men’s soccer team, which came into Sunday’s game with Fordham in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Atlantic Ten Conference, the objective was simple:
Win the final three games of the regular season, and clinch one of six spots in the A-10 Championships.
Those playoff aspirations took a mathematical hit Sunday when the Owls tied Fordham, 0-0, at Ambler Sports Complex.
Despite days without rain in central Philadelphia, Ambler Field was muddy and tough to play on, as it had been against St. Bonaventure on Friday. With or without the ball, players on both sides were constantly slipping.
The Owls’ offense in the first half centered on short, high-percentage passes, helping them keep possession and setting up quick attacks on goal. The Owls, specifically junior Ryan Heins, freshman James Suevo, junior Matt Maher and junior Chris Shelton controlled the ball on the outside, with senior Tony Donatelli, the Owls’ leading scorer, as the point man in the center of the pitch and oftentimes reversing the ball to the other side of the field.
The defense, meanwhile, kept pressure off sophomore goalkeeper Tony Pratico, limiting the Rams’ offensive chances for the most part, to long, low-percentage shots.
“[The defensemen] were great,” Pratico said. “Maher filled in great [for senior defender Joe Brocker who was suspended for the game], and Suevo and Shelton have been playing great all year. It’s nothing new.”
In the second half, possibly due to urgency or to the ever-decreasing quality of the playing surface, the Owls sent more passes into the middle, pinching their midfielders more toward the center and keeping the ball on one side of the field.
Coach David MacWilliams, though, said he felt that it was Fordham’s defense that was the main cause for the change.
“It was obviously something that they did [defensively],” MacWilliams said. “Obviously we didn’t do a good job of getting the ball wider. Our outside midfielders came in too much, so we didn’t really have possession, which we would have liked.”
With neither team taking control of the game, the second half and both overtimes were dominated by physical play. The ball mostly remained in the midfield.
The lone scare of the afternoon for the Owls came with just under thirty minutes to play. The Rams sent a lofted ball toward the middle of the goal. Pratico, who fought with wind and footing all afternoon, went up for the ball and collided with a group of Fordham players.
The ball rolled into the goal before it was disallowed on an offside call, but Pratico remained on the ground, shaken up. He got up minutes later, going on to make several key saves.
The Owls continued to play the ball through the air in overtime, leading to their best scoring chance. Donatelli, who hit the crossbar on three shots in the game, struck his direct kick off the bar. After a failed header attempt on the carom, the ball ended up out of bounds for a Rams’ goal kick.
The impact of the tie is that the Owls now need help if they are to reach the playoffs. But according to the players, the outlook is still optimistic.
“We’ve got two games left,” Donatelli said. “We’re not out of it yet. We come back, we get two wins, [and] we’ll see what happens. We just have to move on from today.”
Pratico was optimistic, as well.
“I think we’ve got it,” Pratico said. “The teams we’re playing aren’t anything special. … We’ve just got to look at it one game at a time.”
Sean Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.