The Springfield College men’s soccer team’s five game home winning streak came to a heartbreaking close on Wednesday night in a 1-0 loss to Wesleyan at Brock-Affleck Field.
In the 86th minute, after controlling the pace for the majority of the second half, the Pride gave up its first goal at Brock-Affleck Field since September 18.
Cardinals junior Matthew Rubinstein found first-year Lucas Ruehlemann, who corralled the tough pass in traffic. Ruehlemann got past Springfield defenseman Pat Silva as Silva lost his footing, leaving just Pride keeper Clay Knibbs to stop him.
Knibbs came out to challenge Ruehlemann and take away his angle to shoot on goal, so he put on a series of dribbling moves to sneak around Knibbs and find Rubinstein in front of a wide open goal. One firm touch later, and the sea of red jerseys were piled in the corner of the pitch celebrating the game-winning goal.
All 11 Springfield players who were on the field huddled with their arms around each other at the top of their box after the goal.
“We just told each other to keep going, to keep fighting,” said Silva. “That’s what we do out here, we fight for each other and we play for each other. Every time we are out there we play as hard as we can for one another, no matter if we are winning or losing.”
Silva was not kidding. This team fights, and they fight hard.
Despite the goal, the Pride put together one of the most complete games of soccer they have all year, hanging tough with the NESCAC powerhouse of Wesleyan all night long.
The Cardinals averaged 15 shots a game heading into their meeting with Springfield. A combination of defensive prowess and another lights out performance from Knibbs in goal (soaring high to dismiss all seven of Wesleyan’s corner kicks) resulted in only eight shots; almost half of what they are accustomed to. The Pride defense continues to dominate, giving up just two goals in their last four contests.
“Our back line is just a really strong group of guys that know how to play to each other’s strengths,” began Springfield head coach Tommy Crabill. “They communicate really well, and they have grown a ton from their really difficult moments throughout the season. It’s because they train with intentionality and they are an extremely focused bunch.”
Springfield had two golden opportunities to score in the second half, however both were denied due to what seemed to be a slick surface as several players began losing their footing as the game went on.
In the 63rd minute, junior Ethan Boileau snuck behind the Cardinals back line and handled a perfectly arched through ball from senior captain Jack Rosenberg. As Boileau wound up for his shot, he slipped, and was unable to generate a powerful attempt – the ball trickled slowly to Wesleyan keeper Liam Devanny.
Five minutes later, a similar scenario unraveled with graduate senior Ian Macala. Wesleyan defender Evan O’Brien carelessly passed the ball through the middle of his own box looking for a teammate, but was intercepted by Macala. The costly giveaway turned out to be a forgetful play for the Cardinals due to Macala also slipping, as he was unable to produce speed behind his shot. Another wide-eyed opportunity squandered, and the game remained scoreless.
“We played so well. We put the ball on the ground and moved it in the right places that we wanted to, it was just unlucky we didn’t get to finish. We have to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net,” Silva continued.
A match as physical and equally played as this one is never easy to lose, but there were plenty of positives to take away for Crabill’s crew.
“I thought it was a really competitive match,” offered Crabill. “It was two great teams trying to do really challenging things on the field. We connected for key passes in transition, we battled hard for 50-50 balls, and it was an aggressive, exciting and fun match tonight.
The Pride’s bench was consistently loud and encouraging, and the confidence in which it gave those playing on the pitch was obvious. This group has been playing tremendous soccer over the course of the last month, especially on their home turf, and they feel as if they can play with anyone – rightfully so.
“Our whole roster is competitive. It makes it so tough on the coaching staff to make changes, but easy on the team because they know whoever is going in can do their job at a high level. They have a ton of trust in each other so their confidence is growing constantly, now it’s just a matter of taking advantage of opportunities like these that come our way,” added Crabill.
That huddle after Wesleyan’s match-deciding goal symbolizes this Springfield College soccer team. They are together, and they will fight for each other in any case. They may have lost tonight, but there is certainly nothing to be disappointed about.
This team can compete, and compete at a very elite level.
“We’re going to be right back at it tomorrow, putting in hard work. We’re hungry now, we’re going to start to see what we can really do,” exclaimed Silva.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics