There wasn’t an empty seat in Shea Stadium for Saturday night’s homecoming game, but there was an empty zero on the scoreboard. The Braves men’s soccer team was shut out by Evansville 2-0 in the first Missouri Valley Conference matchup of the season.
The crowd was fairly quiet the first half, as neither team was able to take control of the game early on; only six shots were taken between the two teams. The Aces’ best chance in the half came when Evansville’s Ian McGrath missed an early header just over the crossbar, while Bradley had their best chance when senior midfielder Alex Garcia’s shot was saved.
“We’ve defended very well through the run of play,” head coach Jim DeRose said. “I thought we really limited their quality opportunities, the shot count was relatively even, and their shots weren’t appreciably dangerous. But on the other side, we really didn’t generate a tremendous amount.”
In the second half, the momentum quickly swung in favor of Evansville when Jared Robinson scored their first goal in the 51st minute. Down a goal, Bradley tried to play catch up and had Evansville on the ropes with a pair of corner kicks coming close together after the 70-minute mark.
“The game really hinged on the first goal of the second half,” DeRose said. “It was a long throw in, got over, bounced and, credit to their leading scorer, he got inside our defender and tapped it in.”
The only shot Bradley scored came on the wrong goal. An Evansville cross was headed by junior defenseman Clark Emerson past senior goalkeeper Logan Keterrer into Bradley’s net for an own-goal, putting the Purple Aces up for good, 2-0.
“Clark was just trying to make a play for us,” DeRose said. “It’s one of these things that just happens. Truth be told the final score was 1-0, we gave up the goal before that and we didn’t score. It was a tough loss, but the homecoming crowd was phenomenal. It was great student support, great community support. We’ve been fortunate to win a lot of games on homecoming, we just came up on the short end this weekend, but it was a great vibe and a great atmosphere.”
The Braves bounced back Tuesday when they renewed a local non-conference rivalry, defeating Western Illinois 2-0.
The game was fairly quiet in the first half, as well. Both teams displayed good defense, which kept the score knotted going into halftime.
“I was very proud of our team,” DeRose said. “We made some changes. The only upper-classman, other than Ketterer, was in our back four. After that, we started six freshmen. I think they did a really nice job, then we brought in our upper classmen, and at that point I think our freshness helped us late in the game.”
The start of the second half looked to be going much the same way until Bradley broke the scoreless tie in the 83rd minute. Emerson headed in a long throw from freshman forward Noah Lasutchinkow for his first goal of the season.
The Braves weren’t quite done scoring, though. Just minutes later, junior forward Richard Olson got past the defense and found freshman forward Suad Suljic, who struck from short-range for the first goal of his career.
“Not only were we happy with the result, but it was against a very good team and in a local rivalry game, so that was good for us,” DeRose said.
The team’s next game will be tomorrow night, when the Braves travel to Springfield, Missouri, to take on conference opponent Missouri State.
“[Missouri State] has won two out of the last three regular season championships,” DeRose said. “They’re a phenomenal defending team and they defend their home field extremely well. They’re the type of team that, if they get a goal, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble because they play a very deep bench, and they know how to play with a one goal lead to counter you for the second one. We’re going to have to generate some chances and just have people in the right places.”