Men’s soccer claws out victories at Classic

Dan Barone

Freshman Marcello Rodriguez collected two goals and an assist this weekend as Villanova defeated Princeton on Friday and UPenn on Sept 13.

The victories came en route to winning the Penn/Kappa Classic in Philadelphia to boost its record to 3-3.

Rodriguez’s performance earned him honors of Big East rookie of the week as well as Philadelphia Soccer Seven player of the week. He now leads the team and the Soccer Seven in points with nine in the first six games (three goals, three assists).

In the championship game on Sunday, ‘Nova was challenged by Pennsylvania at the Quakers’ home field. The Quakers lit the scoreboard first in the 53rd minute, when Erik Violante netted a penalty kick. ‘Nova refused to go away, however, and Rodriguez put home the equalizer 10 minutes later off a pass from Scott Rodemer.

It appeared that the ‘Cats had put in a last-second goal at the end of regulation, but George Nehas’ score was called back for a foul and the game continued into overtime. In the extra frame, Rodemer found Rodriguez once again just four minutes into the period, and the ‘Cats came away with a big win.

Two days earlier, the Wildcats took on the Princeton in their first game of the weekend. Just seven minutes into the game, Rodriguez collected the rebound off a shot fired by Dan Massimini and found Jash Lopuski for the first goal. That would be all the ‘Nova defense would need, as it helped sophomore goalie Craig Bald record his first career shutout.

The story of the season so far has been the defense, which is obviously much improved from last year. It was aided this weekend by the return of seniors Chris Edgar (shoulder injury) and Colin Raws (illness).

Strong play from Tony Watkins and Pat Gallagher were also key elements when the ‘Cats clamped down on their Ivy League opponents this past weekend. Watkins attributed this season’s early defensive success to “size, speed, organization and a new system that features four defenders flat across the back.”

The defense was also given a helping hand this weekend by goaltender Craig Bald, who made his first two starts of the season. Bald did not let head coach Larry Sullivan regret his decision, and the lone goal he surrendered came on a penalty kick. “Bald stepped up when he needed to and answered a lot of questions that were in the air,” captain Dave O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell sat out the matches this past weekend while nursing a sprained MCL and said he is looking forward to returning against Temple on Sunday. With O’Donnell’s return, the defense should be even stronger through the rest of the season.

The aura around the team seems to be much more upbeat and optimistic than it has been the past couple seasons. With the team at 3-3, junior Mike Altschuler said, “We haven’t played a bad game yet, and now it looks like we’ve solved our scoring problem.” The team is hoping that Rodriguez can be the go-to-guy that they have been missing. As long as the offense keeps clicking, and the defense stays tight, ‘Nova could have a very promising season ahead of them.

‘Nova’s results against No. 9 St. John’s on Wednesday were not available for this week’s edition. The ‘Cats next take on Temple at home on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the West campus soccer complex.