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WVU Men’s Soccer

WVU Men’s Soccer Begins Conference Play with Scoreless Draw

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The No. 3 Men’s Soccer team kicked off Mid-American Conference play with a scoreless draw against No. 20 Akron, but the score wasn’t indicative of the quality of play.

The Mountaineers (6-0-2) welcomed the Zips (5-2-1) to Morgantown for a top-20 match-up, and what a battle it was. In front of 1,328 WVU and Akron fans, on a freezing cold, fall night, the field was electric.

The fouls began almost immediately, as WVU senior forward, and reigning MAC Player of the Week, Yoran Popovic put the first of 18 Mountaineer fouls on the board. Two Akron fouls quickly followed before WVU got the first shot up on Akron’s redshirt senior keeper Will Meyer. Shots off the feet of redshirt sophomore defender Bjarne Thiesen and junior midfielder Luke McCormick went high and into the hands of Meyer, respectively. WVU couldn’t reliably find the goal, but it didn’t stop freshman defender Frederik Jorgensen from trying. His shot in the 23rd minute flew out to the right of Meyer, but still the space behind him stayed bare.

Akron put the WVU defense in a suffocating press formation early in the first half, one which WVU head coach Dan Stratford’s team clawed viciously to escape from.

“It’s so important, when you play a team like that, that you connect your first pass, that we break that first line of pressure as quickly, and as effectively, as possible,” Stratford said. “The positive and negative of some of our attacking principles and shape is, ‘There’s going to be moments in possession when we feel like we can counter-attack every single time,’ but if you don’t connect that next pass when we make that choice, then we’re going to have to run again and we’re going to have to defend again. Too many times, we didn’t connect that tonight, and that was an accumulation, in the first half, of us not connecting the first pass in transition. Akron’s a good team that tried to press us immediately, and the longer that went on, the quicker they won it back. We kind of couldn’t break that cycle for a little bit there in the first half.”

The first of the game’s 10 yellow cards was awarded to WVU’s sophomore midfielder Ryan Crooks in the 34th minute, and the game’s up-tempo, scrappy nature evolved from there. The first half concluded with a second yellow card at the 44′ mark, booked to Zips’ freshman defender Jonas Buechte.

The two teams stood scoreless approaching the second half, only WVU’s second occurrence of this season. Stratford knew that he needed to kick-start his team’s touches, even after leading the first half possession.

Going into the second half, this Mountaineer roster believed it would be victorious. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Akron quadrupled its shots in the second period, sending four shots near WVU fifth year keeper Steven Tekesky, beginning in the 46th minute after an offsides call on the breakaway run. WVU battled back, nearly netting an Ike Swiger ball that went high off the senior forward’s push. Akron earned its second yellow card in the 71st, logged to freshman midfielder Dyson Clapier. The pace picked up as the match inched closer to 90′, but neither team could capitalize. Set pieces, WVU’s specialty, weren’t working. Two back-to-back in the 73rd minute fell fruitless, and the Mountaineers tried another four within a minute and a half of each other in the 80th minute. Nothing fell.

“We obviously want to execute with the quality of service and the delivery into the area, but [corner kicks] have also been the solution for us,” Stratford said. “There’s going to be days where it doesn’t go for you, whether it be from a set piece or an open play… I think if you were to look at the ratio of set pieces we get, in relation to the number of goals that we’ve scored this season, I think we’re above average.”

The general agitation grew, and each team earned an additional yellow in the 87′ and 89′, given to McCormick and Akron’s sophomore striker Ryan Kingsford. Both teams were on edge as they exited the field in anticipation of the first overtime period. WVU was 0-0-2 when forcing overtime, and the No. 3 Mountaineers were itching to break the spell.

The first overtime flew by, and both teams kept the ball around the middle of the field. Three WVU offsides calls were gained in the first overtime and in 97′, Akron tried its second set piece of the night, to no avail. As time drew on, the all-too-familiar pattern of a draw became evident.

Even still, double overtime kept the energy high. WVU’s resident center back, fifth year Kevin Morris held down the fort the entire game, but continued to insert himself into scrappy situations, notching his first foul in the 102nd minute. WVU continued to advance on Meyer, but he held firm, even scrambling to get a ball that ricocheted off the side post of his goal. A disgruntled missile off the foot of WVU redshirt sophomore midfielder Sergio Ors Navarro was the Mountaineers’ closest chance to put the game away, but it wasn’t in the cards tonight.

A questionable WVU yellow card was booked to Pau Jimenez Albelda in the 104th minute, tallying the match’s seventh yellow of the evening.

Another Mountaineer yellow was given to sophomore midfielder Ryan Baer in the 108th minute, on a play that Stratford was adamant any coach in NCAA soccer would have encouraged the fifth year midfielder to follow through on.

“You look at the yellow card that Ryan Baer receives,” Stratford said, regarding the match’s 10 cards. “There’s not a coach in the country that doesn’t tell him to do that in that moment, so some of them are necessary.”

WVU’s remaining chance at closing the game down came in the beginning of the 110th minute, when a breakaway pass to Swiger almost rocketed past the hands of Meyer, but he got behind it in the center of the box. Another quick WVU run up the middle, a handful of seconds later, sent McCormick careening into Meyer, setting off a chain of events that resulted in near-fisticuffs inside the 18. With six seconds to go, Popovic and Akron’s freshman defender Tobias Bak were both carded for inciting the scrum. Tensions were high as both teams crowded the box, hoping to get a hand on an opposing player. When those six seconds ran out and the musket fired, WVU added its second scoreless draw, and its third tie, of the season.

The No. 3 Mountaineers moved to 6-0-3 in 2021, tied for the best start to a season in program history, but Stratford says that the team has a lot to work on as it enters conference play.

“You want the result to be a consequence of the performance, and I know that this group is better than what they showed today, and they know it too,” Stratford said. “That will be the humility that we approach tomorrow with, when we review, and continue to try and improve. I just said to [the players], ‘A No. 3 team in the country has just played another top-20 team, underperformed, and still deserved to win the game.’ There’s a lot of positive signs and a lot of encouragement we can take, and we’ve gone through probably our most difficult spell of the season there.”

The unbeaten Mountaineers will be back in action against non-conference foe Lehigh on Oct. 5 in Bethlehem, Pa.

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