Even after returning seven starters that exceeded expectations in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference last season, men’s soccer proved it still has work to do this fall, dropping its opening test to Drexel Friday.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” coach Dave MacWilliams said, following the Owls’ 1-0 loss. “And I keep telling our players, ‘We haven’t won a game yet this year. We can’t keep relying on what we did last year, we have to focus on this year.’ Hopefully, this wakes us up.”
Drexel, a team that won the Colonial Athletic Association Conference title en route to a 9-8-4 finish last fall, found its deciding breakthrough just 2 minutes, 31 seconds seconds into the first overtime period when junior forward Joaquin del Rosario found space down the right-hand side of the field and fired a cross to senior midfielder Michele Pataia. Pataia kept his composure as he stood just outside the six-yard box, and as Owls senior goalie Dan Scheck raced off his line and tried to block the shot, the Dragons’ product of Saint German, France deposited a low drive under Scheck and handed Drexel the winning tally.
It was the culmination of a turn of events for the Owls, as they had outshot the Dragons 9-5 in the opening half. However, after halftime, Drexel adjusted to even the shot count at 13 apiece by the end of regulation.
Temple had its chances, but couldn’t find the one finishing touch that Drexel found early on in the first 10-minute overtime period.
“The first half, we definitely had more chances,” sophomore defender Stefan Mueller said. “We created more opportunities that we should’ve ended the game with, and unfortunately, they came around to bite us in the butt.”
Save the game-winner, the back line of Mueller, Robert Sagel, Jonah Williams, and Matt Mahoney played solid defensively, shutting down several Dragon attacks before they could get into Temple’s penalty box.
One area that could give Temple’s defense trouble this season lies in the counterattacks. Left back Stefan Mueller and right back Matt Mahoney like to push up the field, and if the defensive midfielders don’t fill in those vacant spots, Temple is susceptible to allowing goals in those situations.
Sophomore defender and co-captain Robert Sagel said it’s something that he thinks will improve with time.
“We’re still starting to learn from each other,” Sagel said. “We’re starting to get in the groove a little bit. It will get better. It’s the first game of the year, we’ll learn from it.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Temple had arguably its best chance of the match midway through the first half. Drexel’s sophomore goalie, Tyler Afflerbach, had come off his line after making an initial save. He couldn’t reach the ball, and the Owls’ sophomore midfielder Dinho Zwane appeared to have a shot on an open net.
But soon after Zwane fired right inside the right side of the penalty box, Drexel’s senior defender, Robert Liberatore, kicked the ball off the goal line, preventing what would have been the match-winning goal in regulation.
MacWilliams, in his 15th season as the Owls’ coach, has prided himself in the way he teaches his teams to defend, and said he saw the significance of that play in the match’s ultimate outcome.
“A goal changes the complexity of the game,” MacWilliams said. “If we have scored early, the other team may now have to chase the game a bit. They have to open up a little bit more, take a little more risks.”
MacWilliams added that whenever the Owls were close to scoring, the final touch or pass wasn’t good enough to get the job done. Much of that has to do with Temple’s inexperience at the collegiate level.
“You got four or five freshmen starting today [for us],” MacWilliams said. “So it’s going to take a little time for us to get used to things…Continuity and chemistry are things we’re still working on.”
Temple will look to rebound Sunday when it faces Sacramento State at 2 p.m. at Ambler.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.