Men’s Soccer: ‘Nova cracks national rankings



Michael Zipf

After some shocking upsets and a perfect record in the Big East, the nation is beginning to take notice. Wins over Seton Hall and Georgetown have propeled the Wildcats into the national rankings. Villanova holds the No. 23 ranking in the NSCAA coaches poll.

Heading into its matchup against Seton Hall, the men’s soccer team looked to start a new winning streak, as its six-game winning streak was snapped in a highly contested loss to No. 3 Notre Dame. The Wildcats, possessing a veteran-laden team, relied on many of their underclassman to capture a 2-0 victory over Seton Hall. The victory propelled Villanova’s record to 7-2 overall and 2-1-0 in the Big East.

Prior to the match, Head Coach Larry Sullivan emphasized the importance of attacking the Seton Hall defense and continually applying offensive pressure.

“Going into the Seton Hall game, we wanted to be in an attack mode,” Sullivan said. “We don’t always attack, but against them we thought we could be successful by attacking first.”

In the early moments of the game, the Wildcats executed their game plan, generating several scoring opportunities. Freshman Anthony Griffin nearly connected on a feed from sophomore forward Mike Seamon, who leads the team in points, but Griffen’s shot was deflected out of bounds by Seton Hall goaltender Paul McHenry. On the ensuing corner kick, senior defender Matt Sleece sent a header just over the cross bar. The Wildcats continued to apply offensive pressure throughout the first half, generating six shots.

However, the Hall countered the Wildcat’s attack, creating several scoring chances in the first half. Villanova goaltender Jason Friel – named Big East Goaltender of the Week twice this season – and the rest of the Wildcat defense prevented Seton Hall from capitalizing on any of its opportunities. Friel recorded four saves in the first half, including critical saves during 16th and 21st minutes of the first half. Seton Hall’s Bryan Longo nearly connected on a corner kick set; he gathered a deflection and sent a low blast just wide of the corner of the net. Five minutes later, Friel stopped a low blast from Seton Hall’s Eliseo Giusfredi to preserve the scoreless affair. Sleece also played a critical role in preserving the shutout, breaking up Giusfredi’s drive to the goal during the 37th minute of the first half.

After failing to capitalize on their chances in the first half, the Wildcats opened up the second half looking to break the scoreless tie. Junior co-captain Joe Taylor nearly connected with senior Mike Del Guercio off a chip shot, but Del Guercio’s header sailed just wide of the top cross bar. Finally, freshman Sean Mergenthal capitalized on the Wildcats’ third scoring opportunity of the second half, recording his second goal of the season to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Mergenthal connected on his second goal of the game during the 72nd minute to secure the Wildcat victory. Sophomore Mike Seamon collected a loose ball and deftly dribbled through the Seton Hall defense and sent a cross to Mergenthal who redirected the ball past McHenry to give the Wildcats a 2-0 victory.

Overall, Sullivan was pleased with the team’s performance, especially the freshmen.

“The freshmen don’t seem like freshmen,” Sullivan said. “They are really working together and blending in; they’re doing a lot of great things. Mergethal played well tonight, and Chris Christian has been playing really well, especially considering all the responsibility he has. Both have responded really well.”

Looking to avenge a difficult 2-1 defeat against Georgetown last season at the Villanova Soccer Complex, the Wildcats traveled to Washington D.C. to face the Hoyas in a highly contested Big East matchup. During the game, the Wildcats relied on their defense, which has only allowed an average .40 goals per game. Villanova’s early offensive pressure in the first half and stalwart defense in the second proved to be enough to capture a 1-0 victory and propel the Wildcats to sole possession of first place in the Big East Red Division and third place overall.

Sleece connected on the game’s lone goal during the sixth minute of the first half. Sleece’s goal was his first goal since 2004. Freshman Christian lofted a shot toward the net through traffic that Sleece was able to head past Georgetown goalkeeper Joe Devine.

“I thought we played a good first half, although we started to fade a little bit toward the second half,” Sullivan said. “I would say the traveling did have an affect on us. We played five or six freshman, and I thought they stepped up and played great defense.”

During the second half, Georgetown tried to mount a comeback; however, their attempt was thwarted by an impregnable Wildcats defense, which has surrendered only one goal in the last 777 minutes of play. During the match, Friel extended his shutout streak to 180 minutes and record five saves, including three saves in the second half.

“Jason Friel, Matt Sleece and Chris Christian did an unbelievable job on the defensive end; they really helped preserve the victory,” Sullivan said. “However, I would have to say Joe Taylor was the man of the match. He was all over the place, battling for and gathering loose balls. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he was very solid; he seemed like he was always wherever the ball was. Overall, we just played great team defense.”

Ultimately, the victory improved the Wildcat’s road record to 4-1-0. Moreover, the Wildcats hold a 16-4 goal advantage on the road this year.

The Wildcats played their first game as a ranked team yesterday, taking on the Scarlet Knights at Rutgers. They’ll return to play in front of their home crowed on Saturday when they take on St. John’s at 1 p.m.