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Bradley falls to Missouri State in MVC Semis

Bradley soccer’s Reed Rogers. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

For the third year in a row, Bradley soccer was knocked out of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship by No. 1 seed and No. 23-ranked Missouri State.

After the Braves upset second-seeded Drake in the quarterfinals of the tournament last week, they had to get through the Bears to reach the final and get a shot at going to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Bradley, history repeated itself once again as Missouri State broke through to the finals for the fourth consecutive year.

“You go to play a team like that and you try to manage the game as well as you can,” Bradley head coach Jim DeRose said. “At the end of the day, you’re not going to get many chances.”

The Braves were able to hold the line against the Bears in the first half and, despite being outshot 13-1, freshman keeper Drew Berry made crucial saves that kept the score level.

“We did a really good job early on keeping the ball away from their good players,” DeRose said. “When they got the ball, we would flood their top scorers with players and then get it out.” 

However, after a quick Missouri State counter attack was made ineffective, the ball was played back to Kian Yari who took a dainty shot at goal from 25 yards out that bounced once before going over the line and into the net.

“It was one of those goals that looked really strange,” redshirt sophomore Reed Rogers said. “At the end of the day it’s unfortunate and it does suck to see something like that go in.”

Continued attempts from the Bears forced more saves from Berry, eventually getting close to going up by two. In a one-on-one situation that left Javier Martin Gil with only Berry to beat, his chance to double the Bears’ lead went wide.

The Braves had their best chance to level the score when a long throw-in connected with freshman Braden Griffin and forced Bears keeper Harry Townsend to save it from a short distance.

“Our strategy every time we play a team like Missouri State is to get it into the box as much as possible,” Rogers said. “It went over the first guy and got to one of our taller players where they can just flick it on once.”

The Bears never backed down after the halftime break, as they played with a high line to complement their constant pressure all around. After 25 minutes of action in the half, Missouri State found their second goal, giving the Braves an even tougher mountain to climb.

“That kind of deflated us a little bit, but our guys kept fighting and pressing,” Rogers said.

Despite an incredibly defensive Bradley side, the Bears found a way to break into the final third, where Jon Koka found space in the middle of the pack after a cross and headed it home with a deflection from Berry in the 70th minute. 

While Bradley tried pushing forward relying on the counter, the Bears’ defense kept their cool and interfered every time, making it hard for the Braves to get a shot in the second half. 

The game ended with a 2-0 Missouri State victory, securing their ticket to the tournament final where they faced off against Evansville for the championship. The Bears ended up victorious, beating the Aces 1-0 and advancing to the NCAA men’s soccer tournament.

While the Braves’ season has come to an end, certainly one of the highlights is overcoming the No. 2 seed Drake while being a No. 7 seed in the MVC Championship. Bradley ended 5-11-3 after dealing with a season filled with injuries, while still maintaining their status as one of the youngest teams in the conference.

Bradley’s junior keeper Nick Burke was often the focal point of the young team, as he made multiple saves each game that helped him compete with the best keepers in the MVC and in the nation. There were also fantastic youngsters like redshirt freshman Kaloyan Somov, who made a good first impression at the start of the season with his game-winning brace against Northern Kentucky.

“I think even the casual observer would say we played hard,” DeRose said. “That’s why I’m just proud and thankful for this group of guys that competed through the adversity.”

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