Men’s Soccer: Mountaineers spoil ‘Cats’ tourney hopes



Michael Zipf

Heading into the matchup against West Virginia in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, men’s soccer Head Coach Larry Sullivan stressed the importance of gaining an early lead. However, the Wildcats found themselves in a 2-0 deficit 28 minutes into the first half as the Mountaineers opened the match with a fury of offensive attacks. Although the Wildcats mounted a valiant counterattack, they were unable to overcome this deficit and ultimately fell to the nationally-ranked and high-powered West Virginia team.

On a brisk night with temperatures hovering around the 30s, the West Virginia offense warmed up its home crowd with a blistering offensive attack. Although Villanova’s defense had been a staple all year, the team was unable to stop West Virginia’s potent offense as the Mountaineers connected on the game’s first goal off a corner kick 15 minutes into the match.

“We knew prior to the match that they were very big and athletic and extremely good with set pieces,” Sullivan said. “After West Virginia connected on their first two goals, we seemed to settle down a little bit, and we were pretty much even the rest of the way.”

After scoring the game’s first goal, the Mountaineers continued to apply extensive offensive pressure, which resulted in their second goal off a blast from forward Dan Statford that sailed beyond the reach of Wildcat goalie Jason Friel. Villanova’s Joe Taylor nearly cut the Mountaineer deficit in half during the 34th minute of the first half when he launched a low left-footed blast Zach Johnson was barely able to corral. The Mountaineers outshot the Wildcats 8-3 in the first half and controlled a 4-1 advantage in shots on goal.

During the second half, the Villanova coaching staff made an adjustment, switching from a four-back set to a three-back set with an extra attack.

“With one more guy up we a got a little more of an attack in the second half,” Sullivan said. “Unfortunately we not were able to capitalize on our chances, and when you don’t score, you can’t win.

Toward the end of the match, the Wildcats generated several scoring opportunities, with the greatest chance of the match occurring during the 81st minute. Senior defender Matt Sleece gathered a nice cross from fellow senior Mike Del Guercio, but his shot sailed just over the crossbar.

Although the Wildcats suffered a difficult defeat, they were pleased with their performance and season in general.

“This was really a tale of two seasons for us,” Sullivan said. “A 10-9-1 record isn’t bad for us given the multiple injuries we faced and two suspensions we had to endure. Losing Dan Demasters and Jake Heyer [to injuries] really killed us on the offensive front. During our last few games, we didn’t really have anybody from the offensive front score. When you play teams like Louisville, Cincinnati and DePaul and you don’t score, it’s tough to win.”

As the Wildcats reflect on their ’07 season and mentally and physically prepare for their ’08 campaign, they will see a team that was filled with great potential and made significant strides this season. However, the Wildcats will have to face a significant adjustment, as this year marked the final season for Sullivan, whose 17 years of guidance and expertise will be missed. The ’08 Wildcats, who will return several starters and key players, should be poised to make another run at the Big East Tournament.