Early goals propel men’s soccer to shutout victory in home opener
At first, it looked like a missed opportunity: an attempted cross disrupted by the crowd of players mingling around the goal. Two seconds later, the Washington University men’s soccer team was rejoicing.
Fans were still filing into Francis Field on Friday night when junior Will Sproule secured sophomore Michael Gemmell’s rebound and pulled his right leg back to release the game’s first shot. As the deep orange sun lowered in the sky beyond the goal, he connected, sending the ball sizzling past the flailing right hand of Pacific Lutheran University goalkeeper Cole Weaver. The goal came just 52 seconds in, but it stuck, as the Bears remained in control throughout to win their first game of the year, 2-0, and improve to 1-1-1 on the season.
“Everybody worked very hard. We put good, high pressure on their team and I think that stopped them from getting into the rhythm that they can,” head coach Joe Clarke said after the game. “I don’t think we would beat [Pacific Lutheran] 2-0 every time we played them, or that the game would end up as slanted as the statistics were tonight. But tonight, it worked that way.”
Sproule’s early goal was crucial for the Bears. “For any team, when you score an early goal like that, it’s kind of a relief, and hopefully it lifts you and doesn’t cause you to sit back,” Clarke said. “I think we responded well to it and, of course, it’s great to get a goal—it takes a lot of pressure off.”
Freshman Julian Gancman added a goal of his own in the 37th minute after Weaver misplayed a header from a Pacific Lutheran defender. After pursuing the loose ball toward the field’s far right corner, Gancman snuck a sharp shot just inside the post, his momentum carrying him into a somersault after getting the shot off. It was the first goal of his young career.
“It felt great. Finally getting around that keeper and seeing the ball in the net was exhilarating,” Gancman said. “When [the ball] fell to me, I was just thinking ‘Get around him and don’t mess this up.’” He did not mess it up, and fellow Bears mobbed him quickly after the finish from his somersault. Gancman leads the team with nine shots—including three shots on goal—and has already inserted himself as a key midfielder for the team.
The Red and Green’s success on Friday was rooted in more than just offense. Clarke and Gancman both stressed the importance of the team’s high press, which held Pacific Lutheran to just five shots, including just three shots on goal. The press helped prevent the Lutes from threatening often and enabled sophomore keeper Matt Martin to maintain a stable presence in front of the goal.
When a rare hard shot came in on a short hop midway through the second half, Martin smothered the ball in a smooth, swift motion, dashing any hope of a Pacific Lutheran comeback. Minutes later, he cemented the Bears’ victory with a diving stop to his left. “[Martin] is just playing extremely well,” Clarke said. “He has laid hold of the position and he’s playing very, very well.” Martin’s three saves on Friday brought his save percentage up to .909 on the season and the game was his second straight shutout.
The Bears outshot Pacific Lutheran 19-5, including 9-1 in the first half, and they will look to continue their success on the road this week in a matchup Tuesday evening against Illinois Wesleyan University. After the win Friday, Clarke once again reiterated his confidence in the team. “We’re looking at things a game at a time,” he said. “I’m really optimistic about this team.”