MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During a torrential downpour in Morgantown, the No. 4 WVU Men’s Soccer team moved to 5-0-2.
The Mountaineers began the game without junior midfielder Luke McCormick, due to a red card sustained at the end of last week’s Marshall draw. Head coach Dan Stratford’s team was also down senior forward Ike Swiger. Missing two normal starters on this team immediately allowed the Dayton Flyers (3-2-2) the advantage. The team drove down the field early, putting pressure on Stratford’s team 28 seconds in. The resulting corner kick went high, and the game was off.
“They actually tried to set a high press, which was interesting, and something we had to manage, but I thought after about 15 minutes, we really settled in,” Stratford said.
WVU, now in the first of a three-game home stand, came out flying, registering the first shot on sophomore goalkeeper Marc Kouadio’s Dayton goal in the 10th minute, off the foot of senior forward Yoran Popovic. Kouadio fell on it, his first save of the half.
Popovic wasn’t satisfied, though. His next shot on goal came two minutes later. It was met, once more, with a diving save from Kouadio. Now down inside Dayton’s 18, the WVU corner kicks flew, but nothing landed. The next few minutes entailed scrums all over the field. Hands went up in disbelief as the rain began to pour and the ground got slicker. The harder the rain fell, the chippier both teams seemed to get… until that plan backfired for Dayton.
In the 20th minute, sophomore defender Geni Kanyane took the legs out from under WVU’s redshirt sophomore defender Kyle Lehnert, earning him the first yellow card of the night. Nine seconds later, in the 20th minute, an unassisted Popovic finally found the space behind Kouadio, securing the first points on the board. WVU lead for the remainder of the half, keeping Dayton off the board, save three shots. The Mountaineers entered halftime in a plum spot, but one goal wasn’t the lead Stratford had envisioned for the night.
The second half was chippier than the first, as four quick fouls, two per team, were tallied between the 53rd and 58th minutes. To conclude the scrappiness, Dayton booked a second yellow card at the end of the 58th minute, directed at junior forward Forster Adajo. The third, and final, yellow card of the night was registered to Dayton’s junior midfielder Seth Antwi in the 71st minute.
In the 77th minute, WVU’s fifth year midfielder Pau Jimenez Albelda came tearing down the field toward Kouadio. A quick cross to redshirt sophomore defender Kyle Lehnert found the back of the net. This was Lehnert’s first career goal, and it ratcheted up the Mountaineer score to 2-0. As the downpour worsened, the pitch became slicker, which actually worked to WVU’s advantage.
“There’s a balance,” Stratford said of the Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium turf playing a large role in the game’s tempo. “We water the surface before most games because we have a high-energy, high-tempo, a lot of depth to rotate, so we want the game and the pace of the game to stay up, because we think we can maintain it. It was extra slick today, obviously with the rain throughout the game, but I thought we dealt with that a little bit better than they did, which is probably to be expected.”
The second goal served as a cushion, and was exactly the work ethic that Stratford envisioned for his team, and what he had been hoping to solidify heading into conference play next week.
“We have continued to talk about the quality of depth we have with this squad,” Stratford said. “Obviously, Kyle and Elijah [Borneo] are both players who have played and have significant minutes for us in the spring, so we felt very comfortable with both of them… They’ve seen it as an opportunity, and they’re making their case. That’s all I can ask for, and that’s all they can do to continue to do themselves justice, so I’m pleased for both of them, quite honestly, in terms of the quality of performance they turned out today. I’m sure, in particular Kyle, will be very pleased and satisfied, hence the quality of celebration you saw when he got his first goal.”
Eleven minutes later, a messy Flyers’ own goal cemented the undefeated Mountaineers’ clean sheet game. Now leading 3-0 with two minutes remaining, the Mountaineers held firm. In terms of domination, this win wasn’t just a clean sheet; WVU fifth year goalkeeper Stephen Tekesky didn’t record a single save the entire game.
“I wholeheartedly believe we deserve to be where we are in the country,” Stratford said of continuing the top-5 rankings. “I think from that perspective, I want us to continue to show a bit of killer instinct and walk around and own our national ranking as high as it is right now, and show these teams that if we show up on the day, no one can compete with us in the country.”
The Mountaineer offensive presence secured a season-high 18 shots, nine in each half. Stratford hopes to build on this shooting potential later in the season, and especially in two weeks at home against a No. 20 Akron on Sept. 30 to kick off MAC play.
“We’ve talked a lot about how important the start of the season was, with as many home games as we were going to have, and that this place needs to feel like it’s a fortress,” Stratford said. “It needs to feel like it’s so difficult to get a result here, so difficult to score and break us down, and that the game is played as close to their goal for as long as possible, and I think we really, really showed that in the second half today.”
With this win, the Mountaineers moved to 5-0-2 on the season. They’ll be back at Dick Dlesk on Saturday to play St. Bonaventure at 4 p.m.