Bradley soccer (3-6-1) split their two home games this past week, losing to No. 22 Missouri State (5-1-2) on Saturday but beating Drake (4-2-2) on Wednesday.
The Braves saw their biggest crowd of the season with over 1,000 fans present at Shea Stadium on Saturday for Homecoming. Before the game, many people came out to tailgate to celebrate the occasion.
The parking lot at Shea Stadium was flooded with red. Various students, alumni and soccer fans came hours early to tailgate with their friends and families. Multiple Bradley athletic teams attended the tailgate to enjoy the pre-game festivities. Students threw around footballs and took part in spikeball, cornhole and frisbees in an atmosphere that was as close to a football tailgate that a university without football can get.
In the stands, the lower bleachers of Shea were nearly at full capacity. Every fan was given a pair of thundersticks when they walked into the stadium to add to the noise of the drummers and cheerleaders. Junior goalkeeper Nick Burke was amazed at the support given to the team.
“We really appreciate that so many people turned out and made it what it was,” Burke said. “It was just unfortunate that we couldn’t get the result.”
Even with the assist from the crowd, the Braves could not get a victory against nationally-ranked Missouri State. The Bears took the match 3-0 after three first half goals.
Bradley had to play a lot of defense against the swift Missouri State team and the Braves did not attempt a shot on goal the entire match, but Burke did record a season-high eight saves. Head coach Jim DeRose has been very impressed with Burke and his play this season.
“We have been so blessed and fortunate [with goalkeepers] in my time here, even in just recent years with Bryce Logan and now Nick [Burke] as the transfer,” DeRose said. “He’s just been great and kept us in every game.”
The message to the team has been about clean defense, and in the second half, Bradley held the Bears out of the back of the net. They were able to carry that momentum into Wednesday’s game versus Drake, where they shut out the Bulldogs 1-0.
After a scoreless first half, freshman Braden Griffin scored his first goal of the year off a beautiful corner kick from sophomore Patrick Fishburne. The Bradley defense was able to hold off Drake with no shots on goal allowed after Griffin’s netter.
The Braves were relieved with the win and look to carry it over to the upcoming match this weekend in Evansville.
“Our singular focus is getting as healthy as we can before Sunday,” DeRose said. “The next step for this team is to go on the road and get road points.”
Indeed, Bradley is dealing with injury problems, particularly in the forward position with senior Pepe Mellado and freshman Gonzalo Gil ruled out for the time being. However, junior Jack Douglas finally rejoined the team after sitting out against UIC.
The Bradley soccer season is just over the midway point with only seven games to go before the Valley championship in November. Burke recognizes the importance of each game and how important it is to win.
“We’re at a stage now where obviously the results are what they are but we can control the games moving forward,” Burke said. “Putting our best foot forward in each of those is going to be key.”
The Braves will make the trip to Evansville to challenge the Purple Aces this Sunday before turning around to face Eastern Illinois at home on Tuesday.