The Bradley soccer team concluded its regular-season with a well-fought 1-0 victory against Valparaiso University this past Saturday at Brown Field. The Braves seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, taking down Drake University 3-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference quarterfinal.
With the win over Valparaiso, the Braves completed their overall regular-season record 10-7-2 and MVC record 4-3-1.
Redshirt-sophomore forward Jha’Lon Johnson scored the game-winner of the night in the 43rd minute – his second goal of the season. Junior forward Austin Bell provided the lethal assist, which Johnson headed home for the Braves to secure the win.
Bradley goalkeeper Brandon Barnes made a total of five saves throughout the match to complete his ninth clean sheet of the year. This allowed Bradley to finish in third place in the MVC regular season and to secure the No. 3 seed in the MVC Championship tournament.
As a result of his performance, Barnes received his fourth MVC Defensive Player of the Week award on Nov. 6. The graduate transfer ties former Bradley goalkeeper Adam Gross for most times receiving the acknowledgement.
The Braves then hosted No. 7 seed, Drake University, in the MVC Championship tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday night in an enticing rally.
The first 20 minutes of the quarterfinal matchup at Shea Stadium started poorly for the Braves, as they struggled to obtain possession and create goal-scoring opportunities.
Freshman forward Gerit Wintermeyer commented on how the game didn’t start how they would have liked, but went their way in the end.
“We started out [the first half] not as motivated as we would have liked,” Wintermeyer said. “We got back on track after the first 25 minutes even though they scored. By the second half, we showed our real face and executed our coach’s plan really well and won in the end.”
Just as the Braves started to get comfortable on the pitch, the Bulldogs capitalized off a deep cross from Juan Louis that Stafford Dowling was able to finish past Barnes. This gave Drake the 1-0 lead that would conclude the action of the first half.
After the break, Bradley turned the tide as sophomore forward Roman Schindler scored the seventh goal of his debut season in the 48th minute, tying the game 1-1. Schindler received a far-side cross from freshman midfielder Younes Dayekh that he fired past Bulldogs keeper Caden McCullough.
It took only 61 seconds for the Braves to turn that tie into a 2-1 lead. Senior defender Jacob Taylor launched in a long-distance throw to teammate Clark Emerson, who then knocked down the ball for junior defender Alex Ciaramitaro to finish in the 49th minute.
Head coach Jim DeRose said in the team’s aggression in the second half was key.
“We were sloppy and uncharacteristic in the first 15 minutes,” DeRose said.. “But by the second half, we were getting better by running into the box hard and being more aggressive. The first two goals were a result of that aggression.”
The Braves weren’t done scoring, however, as Wintermeyer completed the three-goal rally after scoring a ball provided by Schindler in the 75th. The match concluded in Bradley’s favor 3-1, advancing them past Drake to the semifinals.
Bradley improved its overall record to 11-7-2 and is now undefeated in its last four matches.
DeRose noted that the team is looking forward to the upcoming semifinal match and how it will be a completely new game.
“Getting a couple wins lately has been helpful for the team,” DeRose said. “For us right now, the tournament is knockout soccer. I think we’ll be up for the task, and it’s a matter if we can deal with Central Arkansas’ lead attacking players.”
Bradley will continue its MVC Championship run at 6 p.m. tonight against No. 2 seed University of Central Arkansas at Shea Stadium.