The undefeated streak has ended.
Bradley soccer traveled to Ohio on Saturday to face Missouri Valley Conference debutants Bowling Green. The Braves lacked intensity in the opening minutes in a match that was ultimately decided as the game drew to a close.
The Falcons entered the game a week after suffering their first conference loss of the season at the hands of Western Michigan. The Braves, meanwhile, hoped to keep their undefeated status intact and break their three-game tie streak.
“I thought the guys were prepared,” Braves head coach Jim DeRose said. “Bowling Green is a very good side and a good team.”
After being voted third in the MVC preseason poll, Bowling Green came out firing against a resistant Bradley defense during the Falcons’ homecoming match.
The Brave impacted most by homecoming fans was junior keeper Drew Berry, who felt and heard the presence of the student section behind him.
“They were definitely talking to me, they were making fun of my hair and the way I kicked the whole game,” Berry said. “It was funny but I kind of have to do a better job of dealing with that.”
The Braves saw little of the ball during the opening minutes of the game as the Falcons wasted no time in setting the bar for the encounter.
“[During the] first conference game, the intensity was a lot higher and I don’t think we met that intensity in the first half,” Berry said.
It was all Falcon persistence as they registered six shots to the Braves’ two in the first 20 minutes. It was this determination, intensity and lop-sided possession that gave Bowling Green their first goal of the night.
“It was a tough header,” Berry said. “The guy [Falcons’ Trace Terry] was taller than our whole team and I don’t think we closed out quick enough.”
After an initial set piece was deflected by Berry, the Falcons found the ball on the edge of the box. After a couple of moments, the ball was crossed into the Bradley box, this time making contact with the towering header from the sophomore Terry. The goal was an immediate wake-up call for the Braves in their first away game in two weeks.
Bowling Green continued their signature silky passing that made it difficult for the Braves to generate much in the first half. They produced six shots to Bowling Green’s 10.
After the break, the Falcons did not let up the pressure as the Bradley midfield lost the ball and almost coughed up a goal 20 seconds into the second half.
“They made a little bit of a tactical change. They took off a second forward and added a midfielder,” DeRose said. “We had to adjust and I think the guys did a good job of adjusting on the fly.”
Making moves in the lineups earlier, freshman Nathaniel Isom came onto the field and seemed to provide the spark that had been missing since junior Kevin Mejias’ injury.
“Everybody stepped it up as the game went along,” Berry said. “They had some better moments, but overall the chances were pretty equal on both sides.”
As fouls flew, Bradley started taking control of the midfield and began to take a slice of the possession that they lacked in the first half. With 18 minutes left, junior Patrick Fishburne sent a ball deep into the opposing 18-yard box where contact was made with the crossbar and bounced away.
With his signature high press, freshman Djibognihou “DJ” Koulai pressured the Falcon backline into making a risky backwards pass to Bowling Green keeper Brendan Graves. With a long first touch, Graves was forced to push Koulai out of the way which resulted in a penalty for the Braves.
With the equalizer on the line, junior Joao Saraiva took the penalty and simultaneously buried it into the back of the net.
Pushing higher up the field and with more purpose, both the Braves and the Falcons insisted on leaving victorious.
In the final two minutes, the game slipped away from the Braves.
“I think I could have played them better, I think the team could have played them better,” Berry said. “But sometimes it happens and it’s just a deflection and it ends up in your own net.”
The game ended with two goals in two minutes as the Falcons sunk their talons deep into the Braves in the final stretch of the match.
The road does not get easier for the Braves as they have a homecoming date with Missouri State on Sept. 30. The Bears are currently ranked ninth in the nation and return to Shea Stadium for their third consecutive homecoming match-up.
“Everybody is excited because of the potential in this squad and we’re really confident and we feel like we can do something in this conference,” Berry said. “Don’t be surprised about the result on Saturday.”