Men’s soccer beats DePauw 3-0 in first home game of season
The crowd watched tensely as freshman Sean Connors stepped up to take his corner kick. Stepping back, then running forwards, Connors whipped the ball into the box, where a mass of Bears and Tigers were waiting. The ball dipped and senior Anthony Law headed it home to make the scoreline 3-0, capping off the Washington University men’s soccer team’s first home game of the 2017 season.
Friday was a day of experimentation for the Red and Green, as head coach Joe Clarke opted to field a 3-5-2 formation against the DePauw University Tigers. “We wanted to control the tempo with quality passing and we wanted to do a good job of controlling the spaces both on the flanks and the side of the field.” Clarke said. This new system is not without its challenges, however. Clarke mentioned that the 3-5-2 formation is vulnerable to counterattacking opportunities, and he wanted to strike a balance in order to remedy that issue.
And in the first half, the strengths and weaknesses of the 3-5-2 were made apparent. Wash. U. dominated the midfield, utilizing quick and accurate passing mixed with long, reaching through balls in order to break down the DePauw defense. “There were times where we played very, very well, but there were times it looked like it was the first time trying.” Clarke noted. DePauw played to their own strengths and launched a number of dangerous counterattacks that tested the Bears’ defense, but ultimately not breaking through.
Junior Ryan Sproule continued his scoring streak by latching on to a loose ball early in the first half and netted his first goal of the game by doing so.
“[Sproule] is definitely playing very well,” Clarke said. “I think his scoring goals says a lot about the players behind him. He can get in great places to score goals, but that’s not really where Ryan’s goals come from. I expect Ryan to score goals, but his play in build up and his ability to hold the ball when he has defenders on him and then find passes for the players around him, he has done a great job in doing that, and that’s one reason he’s getting chances. His build up play is above what it was last year.”
The next crucial play for the Bears came late in the first half. Hit on the counter, the Red and Green were scrambling to defend a DePauw attack, when senior goalkeeper Colin McCune made a point-blank save to keep the scoreline level going into the second half. Clarke remarked that had DePauw scored, the game could have turned out completely differently.
“It totally changed the momentum of the game,” Clarke said of McCune’s save. “Had they scored with three minutes left in the half, they would have left feeling completely pumped up.”
McCune has had a standout start to his first season as the Bears’ starter, though Clarke pointed out that the senior netminder is not trying to be an all star this season. “He’s playing within himself, and he’s trying to do his job, and he’s doing a good job talking to his defenders, and he’s doing a good job playing,” he said.
The Bears walked into the second half feeling confident, and that confidence was key in building the three goal lead against DePauw. Sproule scored his second goal of the game from a free kick by junior Ben Strozewski and almost scored a hat-trick goal, but his third strike was called offsides.
In his first career start at Wash. U., Connors, hailing from Saitama, Japan, notched his first ever assist for the Bears, when he whipped in a corner kick for Anthony Law’s goal that pushed the margin to three. Bryant Hales made a save late in the second half to keep the clean sheet, which is the second clean sheet in a row for Wash. U.
After three games, Clake said he was pleased with his team’s trajectory. “We’re definitely improving,” he said. “We’re finding out things about ourselves. I know we have a lot of potential in our team, and we have a great attitude. We are a competitive team.”
However, not everything is perfectly smooth for the Bears, and Clarke said that he still sees a number of areas in which Wash. U. can improve. “Soccer is a team sport, and it is about how well you play as a team,” he said. “Instead of having eleven players on the field, it should seem that you have fifteen players. Not only should you understand your job, but you need to understand the jobs of the people around you so that you can play with some freedom. We definitely need to improve in every aspect of that.”
The Bears have yet to lose this season, notching up two wins and a draw. The Red and Green hope to continue this streak on Wednesday against Webster at home and will hope to carry their early season momentum into the start of conference play at the end of the month.