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The men’s soccer team held off La Salle to win 2-1. (Kristina Sumfleth / the Villanovan)

by Paul Regan

The men’s soccer team jumped out to an early lead and held on in the second half for a 2-1 victory against La Salle last Thursday.

The Wildcats were boosted by the return of senior midfielder Kyle Soroka, who missed the previous two games due to injury. The ’Cats were looking forward to a rivalry game against a Philadelphia Soccer Six school that has also started the season well, with a record of 5-1-1.

“City Six games are always tough,” Soroka said. “Coming off a loss last week to Princeton gave us motivation too.”

Soroka put Villanova up 1-0 in just the second minute of the game. He found some space in the box and knocked in his own rebound, which banged off the post.

La Salle nearly equalized just minutes later when freshman midfielder and leading scorer Joe Farrell headed a cross on frame that forced senior goalkeeper John Fogarty to make a diving save.

For the rest of the first half, the Wildcats dictated play, possessing the ball and finding themselves in the attacking third more often than La Salle. La Salle’s few chances were turned away by Villanova’s back four, who used its size to win balls in the air. Senior defender Kyle McCarthy in particular was a defensive standout, cutting out crosses and making timely tackles.

Villanova stuck with its game plan in the second half. The ’Cats came out attacking, controlling play for the first 15 minutes.

“No tactical changes, just winning balls and gutting it out,” Soroka said of what was discussed during halftime.

The ’Cats had a good chance to score but junior forward Dylan Renna’s header off a free kick, was saved in diving fashion by La Salles junior goalkeeper John McCarthy. Renna created another chance just minutes later when he hit a low strike from outside the box. McCarthy made another diving stop, which produced a rebound that sophomore midfielder Oscar Umar sent wide of the goal.

The Wildcats realized the fruits of their hard work in the 65th minute. On the counterattack, Soroka won a free kick, which resulted in a yellow card for the La Salle defender, just outside the box. Soroka took the free kick and scored on a bending ball into the top right corner of the goal frame.

“I saw the wall and told [sophomore defender Sean] Sheriden, ‘Don’t move,’” Soroka said.

Down 2-0 late in the game, the Explorers cranked up the urgency. As a result, the game became more intense and physical in the second half, producing more fouls, shouting from the sidelines and two yellow cards.

La Salle started possessing the ball more and generating some scoring chances. In the 68th minute, the Explorers scored on a broken play that resulted from a free kick. Sophomore forward Rob Friskey headed a bouncing ball in the box past Fogarty to make the score 2-1.

Over the next 10 minutes, Villanova, trying to regain its previous two-goal advantage, had two solid scoring chances but could not finish them. In the 72nd minute, senior defender Ryan Whalen sent a ball across La Salle’s goal that barely missed the diving head of sophomore midfielder Hayden Harr. Four minutes later, it was Harr this time who sent in a cross to senior defender Ryan Quane who nearly scored.

Villanova survived a late scare in the 80th minute when La Salle’s junior midfielder Jidell Roach, who was active on both ends throughout the game, stole the ball and played it into the box. Roach continued his run and almost finished a bouncing ball in the box before it was scooped up by Fogarty.

Neither team was able to put an attack together for the last 10 minutes, but the ’Cats were content with keeping possession and running out the clock.

With just a minute remaining in the game, Villanova’s creative junior midfielder Danny Gonzalez attempted to win a ball and was met with a strong tackle from a La Salle player. A scuffle ensued involving all players on the field.

“Danny went in for a tackle and got crushed from what I thought,” Soroka said. “It was good because it shows we have each other’s backs.”

Both teams were sent to their benches while the referees sorted things out and they returned to the field to play out the final 38 seconds of the match.

With the win over La Salle, Villanova built upon its impressive start to the season, improving its record to 6-2-0. The ’Cats are in the middle of a four-game homestand and look to build upon their recent success against the University of South Florida this Saturday at the West Campus Soccer Complex. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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