by Jacob Pickle
The men’s soccer team, with their efficient defense and opportunistic scoring, has proven to be a dangerous team with the potential to make legitimate postseason runs in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they’ll have to scratch that first dream and hope for another chance in the NCAA College Cup after losing to Connecticut, 1-0, this past Sunday in the Big East Championship Quarterfinals at Morrone Stadium.
Villanova’s offense created plenty of opportunities and aggressive defending on the Connecticut back line which led to a handful of miscues by the Huskies. However, the Wildcats simply weren’t able to convert like they have so often this season.
’Nova’s best opportunity of the first half came around the 30th minute as junior forward Dylan Renna played a deft through-ball past the defense to senior midfielder Kyle Soroka.
Soroka was steps away from getting the touch needed to put the pass home before sophomore goalkeeper Andre Blake came off his line to pick it up.
The Wildcats continued to press in the second half. Soroka appeared to draw a penalty in the 48th minute when a scoring threat was halted by a collision with a Connecticut player, but the whistle never came.
Renna had another effort to make an impact in the 66th minute with a breakaway after a long pass left him with space behind the defense, but jostling from a UConn defender and another well-timed charge from Blake once again denied a potential goal.
With the game turning towards a defensive struggle, Villanova’s backs and senior goalkeeper John Fogarty did well to keep things close.
Two stellar plays from senior defender Kyle McCarthy prevented dangerous chances for the Huskies early, while Fogarty again came up with huge saves in the 22nd and 30th minutes.
Connecticut eventually found a seam to exploit in the 40th minute, however, with junior forward Mamadou Diouf finishing cleanly after a well worked give-and-go with senior midfielder Carlos Alvarez. Villanova Head Coach Tom Carlin commended the two preseason All-Americans in his postgame remarks.
“They have some very skilled players and they made a big play there,” Carlin said.
With the Wildcats pushing more and more players up looking for an equalizer in the second half, the Huskies continued to threaten with effective counterattacks. Diouf nearly finished his day with a hat trick after one late shot required a strong save from Fogarty and an apparent goal in the 80th minute was negated by an off-sides call.
The tying goal would never come for Villanova, with the final whistle indicating the end to their run in the Big East Tournament.
The Wildcats began their conference tournament against a creative and dangerous Seton Hall team in their opening round match on Thursday. ’Nova was able to put together a well-rounded 3-1 win that kept the crowd at the Villanova Soccer Complex on the edge of their seats for most of the afternoon.
Contrary to the final score, Villanova actually spent much of the day on the defensive. Seton Hall outshot the Wildcats, 20-16, creating constant pressure and dictating large portions of the game with longer passes into the open space behind the defense. Fortunately Villanova held strong, thanks again in large part to the stellar play of Fogarty.
Fogarty quieted nearly every opportunity the Pirates created, save for a one-on-one breakaway in the 71st minute that gave junior forward Max Garcia his team-leading seventh goal of the season and brought Seton Hall back into the game, 2-1. Fogarty would not be bested again, however, recording eight saves on the day and frustrating a potent Pirates offense.
After the game, Carlin reflected on his goalkeeper’s consistently solid play and its importance for surviving and thriving in the Big East Tournament and beyond.
“He has been terrific for us all season and he was today,” Carlin said. “To be the kind of team that wins in the post-season, you need your goalie to come up big at key points in the game. Fogs has done that all year for us.”
Although the Wildcats offense didn’t necessarily dominate possession or shot counts, they were efficient in converting chances when they needed to.
This was apparent early on in the game, when junior midfielder Danny Gonzalez capitalized on a costly Seton Hall turnover in the 10th minute.
Gonzalez intercepted a pass from the Pirates’ back line near the 18-yard marker, dribbled towards the right outside of the box and ripped a shot straight to the top corner of the goal.
Seton Hall senior goalkeeper Michael Kuzan’s attempt to parry the shot away was futile as it deflected off the keeper’s hand and continued on its way to the back of the net.
The Wildcats second goal came around the 51st minute from a well-taken free kick off the foot of Soroka. Utilizing one of their few set pieces of the day, Soroka curled a powerful low shot from just outside the top left side of the box to the far right post and into the goal.
Although Villanova appeared poised and in control for the remainder of the game, even after Garcia’s goal in the 71st minute, the Pirates continued to push and create chances. The home crowd was finally able to sit back and relax in the 88th minute, when sophomore midfielder Hayden Harr put away the final goal of the afternoon after working a two-man counterattack with Renna.
’Nova must now wait patiently to see if they make the field when the NCAA bracket is announced on Nov. 12.
The Wildcats tied a team record with 12 wins this season, a mark they hope is enough to give them the chance to make some noise on a national stage in the coming weeks.