Men’s soccer outlasts Wheaton to earn grueling double overtime victory

Angelica Vasquez | Contributing Reporter

The cool temperatures Saturday night as the Washington University men’s soccer team was about to kick off contrasted the heated two and a half hours of play that was about to come on Francis Field. After home wins against Wartburg College and Fontbonne University last week, the Bears hoped to keep the momentum going as they hosted Wheaton College. Getting that win, however, proved to be an uphill battle for Wash. U., as the game went all the way to double overtime.

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The game started off quickly. The Bears pressed the Wheaton defense early as they worked their way into the attacking area. However, Wheaton soon won the ball back. The Bears refused to relent and followed the opposing team, as Wheaton matched their intensity. Both teams showed explosive power and shared concern as to how the match would unfold; for several minutes, no one on the benches sat down.

As the game progressed, it seemed that the Bears became more comfortable on the field. While both sides refused to fall back, there were plenty of errors on both sides, with neither team maintaining possession for long and never quite generating scoring chances early on.

That all changed around the 27th minute, with an attack that started with the Bears stealing the ball. They managed to not only exploit the weakness Wheaton had in transitioning the ball, but surpassed the pressure from the defense. After senior teammates Ben Strozewski and Ryan Sproule worked a cross and a header into the area, sophomore Will Sproule, who only entered the game two minutes beforehand, finished the play with another header that soared into the net.

Wash. U. seemed set to close out the first half with a lead, but with a little more than two minutes on the clock, Wheaton’s Chase Gwynn took advantage of a critical defensive error and equalized the score. Head coach Joe Clarke was not pleased with this, even before the goal happened; he barked orders in an attempt to re-consolidate the Bear’s defense. The first half concluded with Wheaton feeling inspired while the Bears were starting to feel concerned.

The second half opened at a rapid pace as Ryan Sproule was played in on goal, but the forward was unable to put the ball in the back of the net. Wheaton kept up with the hosts as they nearly dispossessed junior goalkeeper Conner Matthes of the ball.

As the second half progressed, the Bear’s defense struggled to hold the ball themselves, falling into the pressure of Wheaton’s high press. Wheaton, on the other hand, grew more dangerous by the minute, and it seemed that their goal would eventually come. However, the Bears hung on, and the referee blew the whistle for full time with the score still 1-1 and extra time on the horizon.

The first part of the extra time reflected the intensity of most of the match as both teams fought to create a winning goal. In this case, the Bears were able to produce more chances, but again, lacked the finishing touch to execute the play. After ten minutes passed, the clock signaled for the second part of the extra time to start. Wheaton’s best scoring chance came off a free kick just outside the penalty area, but the Bears managed to get the ball clear. As time was running out, it seemed that both teams were destined to stay in this stalemate and conclude the game as a draw.

But the game lasts until the clock hits zero. Close to the last minute of the extra time, the Bears earned a corner kick and tried one last time to score. Junior Makio Yamamoto sent the cross into the penalty area and the Wheaton keeper misplayed the ball. As the ball bounced in the center of the box, senior Kyle Perez stuck out his foot and booted it into the net. The Wash. U. bench charged into the field and celebrated their second overtime win in a week.

“I didn’t expect all the high pressure they employed in the second half and overtime,” Clarke said post-match. “We would make a back pass, and they had three guys just follow the pass and get right on our guys.”

Clarke said he tried to adjust his strategy to the press as the game went on. “I was just trying to get my guys be willing to bypass the little bitty passes in midfield and go ahead and play ball to the corner flag,” he explained.

On the whole, Clarke said that he was happy with his squad’s performance. “Going to extra with Wheaton is an achievement. They’re a really good team year-in and year-out. Then walking away with a victory is really a crown,” he said.

Their next match is this Monday night as the Bears travel to face Greenville College at 7 p.m.

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