The Bradley soccer team finished out its regular season conference schedule in Des Moines on Sunday, dropping a 2-1 decision to Missouri Valley Conference opponent Drake. Its latest defeat moves the team to a season record of 2-6-1.
Drake went up in the first half, scoring its two goals in the 16th and 31st minutes. Bradley quickly struck back with a goal of its own off a free kick, allowing redshirt freshman Jack Armitage to head in his first career goal.
Set pieces have been key in creating chances for the young Braves squad this season. Armitage was glad to finally be able to convert on the scenarios the team had been perfecting.
“[It was] a little bittersweet,” Armitage said. “It kind of opened the door for me … It gave us a little bit of momentum. I just wish we were able to pull it through.”
Head coach Jim DeRose thought Drake was the better team Sunday afternoon, while also admitting it took advantage of some weakness in Bradley’s backline.
“[Drake] managed the game pretty well when we pulled the goal back,” DeRose said. “We had our chances to equalize. The two goals that we conceded were atypical for us.”
According to DeRose, those weaknesses boiled down to miscommunication and lack of chemistry on defense, something he faults to a few injuries forcing him to switch up his lineup.
“You need games together,” DeRose said. “That was their first game pushing these pieces back together … I thought the guys righted themselves quickly.”
Bradley’s defense turned around its performance in the second half, allowing two fewer shots than in the first half with seven.
The Braves scheduled a last minute match with Western Illinois on Thursday and played to a 1-1 draw in double-overtime to wrap up the regular season schedule.
In the bigger picture, DeRose thinks the regular season was a success despite only coming away with one conference win. He pointed to tighter score lines in the second half of the season, notably a 1-0 overtime loss to perennial powerhouse and No. 2-ranked Missouri State.
“We’ve done what we wanted to,” DeRose said. “We just said we wanted to get better; we didn’t say we want to lose them all, but you can’t skip steps. In that regard, we feel that we made very good strides.”
With a heavy-handed Evansville loss to Loyola-Chicago on Sunday, the Braves secured a fourth seed in the MVC tournament despite not coming away with a result against Drake. This sets them up for a semifinal matchup against the Bears.
Graduate team captain Gerit Wintermeyer admitted opening up the conference tournament to the team ranked second in RPI in the country will be a daunting task. According to him, they’ll need to switch up their game plan.
“We can’t just do the same thing we’ve been doing to other teams against Missouri State,” Wintermeyer said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort. It’s going to take discipline and patience.”
In their last matchup against the Bears, the Braves allowed 18 shots during regulation play. Despite a high offensive output from Missouri State, DeRose focused on the final result.
“I look at score lines,” DeRose said. “Shots don’t concern me … 25-yard shots out when you have one of the best goalkeepers in the country don’t concern me … If we got hung up on shots, our team would have cracked a long time ago.”
Wintermeyer feels that not letting statistics affect their performance comes with time. Something he tries to remind the younger players of time and time again.
“It’s experience, it’s calmness [and] it’s composure,” Wintermeyer said. “[I tell them] we have to stick with the game plan.”
Heading into next Tuesday, DeRose knows it will be difficult to both out-possess and out-pass Missouri State. Instead, his game plan will focus on both set pieces and the counterattack.
The Bears enter the matchup off their first regular season loss in 25 matches after falling to Loyola on Thursday, 2-0. Fresh off a Missouri State loss, DeRose and the Braves will go to Springfield with grand aspirations, hoping to continue the Bears’ losing streak.
“We’re not just going to go out there and go, ‘Hey, let’s just get these guys some minutes and get them a conference tournament experience.’ that’s foolish,” DeRose said. “We’re going to go down there with every intent to upset the world of college soccer. We’re going to go there with every intent to steal a result.”
The semifinal matchup kicks off on April 13 in Springfield, Missouri.