MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As the West Virginia men’s soccer program prepares for MACtion next week against No. 20 Akron, Sept. 25’s non-conference match-up between No. 4 WVU and St. Bonaventure became a crucial building block to channeling more aggressive pressure.
The second of a three-game home stand, WVU head coach Dan Stratford’s Mountaineers (5-0-2) didn’t just need this game to trend their way. The program wanted increased scoring, even coming off a 3-0 shut-out of Dayton.
That aggression that Stratford preached came to fruition, as WVU drove down the field almost immediately, tallying two shots in the first three minutes, off fifth year midfielder Pau Jimenez Albelda and senior forward Yoran Popovic; the latter was saved by Bonnies grad keeper Trevor Wilson. St, Bonaventure’s strikers tried time and again to make the similar long ball connections that WVU was already producing, but WVU’s defenders, flanked by senior Aaron Denk Garcia and redshirt sophomore Bjarne Thiesen, forced the rush toward the sidelines. Fifth year center back Kevin Morris was playing with reckless abandon, and it paid off when the Mountaineers pressed up past midfield.
WVU’s redshirt sophomore defender Kyle Lehnert and sophomore midfielder Ryan Crooks both pushed Wilson to his boundaries, getting eighth and ninth minute shots off. Scoring wasn’t to be yet though. Lehnert’s ball was scooped off the ground and Crooks’ attempt flew high. The Mountaineers, adept at set piece scoring, pushed the Bonnies into familiar territory and earned four corners between 15′ and 33′. That final corner was a routine WVU practice focus, and it showed. Morris’ 6’3″ stature worked to his advantage as he leapt and headed the ball behind Wilson for the first score of the game, and his second of the season. New-to-the-program, Scandinavian players freshman midfielder Otto Ollikainen and freshman defender Frederik Jorgensen, the team’s corner kicker, both tallied assists. At 33′, the Mountaineers lead the Bonnies, and the lead would stand going into halftime. The Mountaineers outshot the Bonnies 11-2, but the one-score lead was hardly enough.
“With the level of dominance that we’ve displayed, I think the game has to be over at halftime,” Stratford said. “I continue to state that we haven’t truly overran a team and dominated a team the way that I would like to, and at 1-nil, you keep a team in the game. We still have to develop that killer instinct. We still have to develop that ruthlessness and make sure that the game is over at halftime, quite honestly.”
33’ WVU strikes first off a corner! A header helps fifth year defender Kevin Morris to his sixth career score. WVU 1 – 0 St. Bonaventure pic.twitter.com/8M88dPoITA
— Julia Mellett (@JuliaMellett) September 25, 2021
In the second half, Stratford elected to turn toward his rotation style, subbing in a group of relatively inexperienced guys with the veterans. Jorgensen, although new to the team, has 13 shots on the season, amounting to two goals, one of which was shot past Wilson. In the 51st minute, Jimenez Albelda drove down the field, passing quickly to the Aarhus, Denmark native, who turned quickly and shot the ball into the bottom left corner, past Wilson’s flat feet.
— WVU Men's Soccer (@WVUMensSoccer) September 25, 2021
The scoring dried up after that, but it wasn’t for lack of options. Five corners failed to capitalize, while sophomore forward Ciro Bourlet-Jaeggi had a shot saved in the 59th minute. WVU continued to force St. Bonaventure back into its own defending third, even earning two offsides penalties. Morgantown native and senior defender Elijah Borneo kept the long runs alive late in the game, aiming down the sideline for crosses inside the 18. He even tried a shot on goal, but it sailed high over Wilson’s goal.
As the final minutes neared, Borneo subbed out in lieu of freshman defender George Pitsillides, who Stratford normally played strictly at the ends of games. Pitsillides, along with junior midfielder Kasimir Lauber, tallied assists in the 59th minute, stirring a Mountaineer momentum wave that wouldn’t crash until the musket fired. The duo worked the ball up inside Wilson’s 18 and got the ball back to Popovic, who was itching for his third score in three games. He flicked the ball straight past Wilson’s falling frame to start a frenzied 90th minute up 3-0.
WITH LESS THAN A MINUTE TO PLAY, WVU’s Yoran Popovic finds the back of the net for the third Mountaineer goal of the night! WVU leads SBU 3-0! pic.twitter.com/QgaTwpfMJc
— Julia Mellett (@JuliaMellett) September 25, 2021
A mere nine seconds later, Crooks rocketed a bomb, his first career goal, past Wilson to put the Mountaineers up 4-0 with less than a minute to play. Crooks didn’t play a single game last season due to his eligibility status from England, but Stratford is confident in sending him out to make clutch plays.
“There’s so much more to come from him as well,” Stratford said of Crooks. “We’re still really excited about his potential with this program. He showed a fantastic attitude for a year being ineligible and patiently waiting, watching us go and do what we did in the spring… It was a matter of time. We knew [a goal] was coming soon, but he needs to understand that he can still impact the game positively whether he doesn’t score or get assists, and there’s still so much more to his game than just that.”
With this win, the Mountaineers moved to 6-0-2, including a season-record 20 shots. WVU’s senior goalkeeper Stephen Tekesky only had two shots that needed saving of the Bonnies’ five. This marks his fifth clean sheet of 2021, good for his 25th shutout. His 39 career wins, along with that 25-shutout record, moves him into No. 2 and No. 4 respectively in WVU Men’s Soccer history.
Tekesky, Stratford, and the rest of the undefeated Mountaineer squad will open MAC play against No. 20 Akron on Sept. 30 at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium at 7 p.m.