Week-5- Midway Through the Season
Since I've been playing at TU, we've steadily been improving and raising the bar for ourselves each and every year. My freshman year we regularly started four freshmen. The chemistry never totally came into place, but it was a learning experience. My sophomore year we scheduled some tough teams in non-conference in order to prove to the nation that we were the real deal. I think we did just that as we beat No. 1 and previously undefeated Stanford at their place. That weekend was very representative of our season. We beat top-ranked Stanford but then came out and lost to Cal that Sunday, a team we should have beaten. Although we fared pretty well during non-conference, we lost our focus during conference and didn't even finish in the top four. Last year, my junior year, we put together strong non-conference and conference showings, but managed to lose at home in the conference tournament in the first round. We made the NCAA tournament, but we were on the bubble. It made you realize that you really have to put together an entire season to do well. That's why our focus the last couple of years has been one game at a time, because each game really carries its own equal weight.
The Microtel Inn & Suites/Golden Hurricane Classic would mark the end of our non-conference slate. We were all going to our pregame meal Friday in ACAC when in walks Drew Williamson. It was really nice to see him and a little shocking as well. For having been in such a bad car accident, you sure couldn't tell. He had a bit of a limp, but nothing to speak of, and was wearing a back brace under his shirt for some stabilization. He looked great, he sounded good, and everyone got a laugh out of hearing him talk to Joe in his "tweener" Scottish/English accent. It was pretty inspiring to have him back for the weekend. Before the game, while they were announcing the starting lineups, they announced Drew at the end of ours and told the crowd what had happened. He got to walk out with us, which of course meant he tried to hit a jog and he was with us for the national anthem. The fans gave him a nice round of applause along with the other team.
The game was a different story. With Drew there everyone wanted to get a win for him. It would have meant even more to beat Penn State who had beaten us in the waning seconds of overtime last year and was currently ranked in the top-10. The start was not what we were looking for. There was a span of about 15-20 minutes early in the first half where we gave up three of the worst goals I've ever seen in Division I soccer. We weren't controlling the ball that well as a team and we weren't communicating in the back or making very good decisions. It was very depressing as a defender to have allowed something like that to happen. Penn State was a good team, but there was no way they should be doing that to us. I remember looking up at the scoreboard shortly after their third goal and telling myself we might as well make a run at a comeback because we still had an hour to play. Giving up with 60 minutes to go in a game is when teams lose 7-0. We did start to fight and put things together. We put in a goal before half and narrowly missed a second. We continued to fight in the second half and I believed we showed who the better team was. That's a hard argument to make when you're down 3-1. We went ahead and put away a second goal and kept pushing the ball toward their goal. We missed a couple of nice chances at the end and probably had a realistic shot at winning that game, or at least sending it to overtime. We lost 3-2, but you couldn't have asked for more from the team in terms of their work and their determination to come back. It was a disappointing loss, but you can't get down 3-0 and expect to come back. The fact that we nearly did show the team we are.
Before our Sunday game, the parents had their annual picnic. This is nice because it's not just the parents that live close and always get to come but it's also the parents that have to make some long hauls. The Pore's came down from Ohio and Lawson's parents were in from Georgia. There are a lot of families from the Dallas, Tulsa, and St. Louis areas as well. The second game against Yale started off a bit slow. At times it seemed like neither team really wanted to be there. The coaches weren't exactly pleased with our performance at halftime. We came out after halftime and showed Yale they didn't really belong on the same field. I don't know how close together the three goals were, but it was rapid fire and before they knew it the Bulldogs was in a 3-0 hole. We won the game 3-1. It was nice to finish off non-conference with a win but there were still games in which we knew we should have performed better and conference is never any easier.
We left Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m. on a sleeper bus to Des Moines, Iowa. I had finished a project at 5:45 a.m. that morning so I had no trouble falling asleep and staying that way for the whole trip. Once we got there, we went to Drake's practice field to stretch our legs. We hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come because the field was closer to cow pasture than anything else I can think of. The game field proved to be pretty similar. The grass was very patchy. There was a ravine down one half where if you played the ball on the ground it would pop up in the air two or three feet.
The night of the game was very windy and the field was wet from the day's rain. Playing our game on that field with that team proved to be difficult. Brad (Lowyns) came up big for us early on a breakaway save. We finally got something going when we controlled the ball in the corner of the field, kicked it out to Matt Thomas, who then put in a nice cross to Matt Wiley who controlled it and finished it off. Getting a goal in before half was huge. It seemed to deflate Drake's team as they relied on emotion quite a bit to keep them going. The second half was a bit of a stalemate and the soccer wasn't very pretty. Then we let them score with less than 10 minutes to play in the game. That was very frustrating. You can't always rely on your offense to score three goals a game. Sometimes you get one and have to dig in. We had kept them out for 80 minutes and then let them head one in off a cross in the last minutes. We played through both overtime periods and the game ended in a 1-1 tie. I guess it's good to come away with a point on the road, but we knew we were better than that team and we hadn't played our best soccer that night. The stats afterward pointed out that they had totally dominated every aspect of the game. I found this laughable as they must have counted every cross and pass on our side of the midfield stripe as a shot. Either way we knew we couldn't be happy with the result, but we had a huge game on Sunday.
It was hard not to get excited about the Creighton game. They were ranked in the top-5 and their new stadium is pretty amazing. I believe I heard that it cost more than $12 million and it's nice to see dedication like that to college soccer. Just in the last couple of years I think nearly half the schools in our conference have gotten new fields or renovated their current fields. We love our new field and our results at home usually show that.
The first few minutes of the game we knocked the ball around and seemed to be catching them off guard. We weren't doing a great job at putting pressure on the ball all over the field and that showed pretty quick as they scored their first goal. We continued to make some bad decisions in the back and let them get behind us. Our offense was also ineffective for large parts of the game. We didn't play well as a team and no one played particularly well individually either. Creighton didn't dazzle us with their amazing play, but they did outwork us. We gave up two goals each half and lost 4-0. There's not a team in the nation that is four goals better than us, but we made them look that good.
I did get to see the Morrison's after the game. They're the family I stayed with two summers ago in Sioux Falls when I played in the PDL. It was a two or three hour drive for them so it was really nice of them to come down. I wish we had been able to show them a better game, but that's not how things work out sometimes. They even made cookies for the team on the ride home. They're the best.
Before the game we talked about Creighton being a launching pad for the rest of our season. We can still use it as that, but it definitely wasn't in the same manner as we initially pictured. Every game from here on out is important.
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