Valparaiso earned its first win over a top-25 foe in six seasons on Friday afternoon, downing Soccer Times #25 and 2007 Elite Eight participant Bradley 1-0 on a hot, muggy evening in the opener of the ProRehab Aces Soccer Classic in Evansville, Ind.
“This was a great win for our program today,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “Bradley is the type of school which has built the kind of tradition that we’re trying to work towards, and for us to take the field with them today, play with them for 90 minutes and come out with the victory shows that we’re making progress towards that goal.”
The teams played a scoreless opening half of soccer, as both squads attempted just four shots in the first 45 minutes of play. Both the Crusaders and the Braves put multiple shots on frame in the early going, forcing Valpo netminder Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West) and his counterpart, Drew Van Kampen, to each make three saves in the first 25 minutes. But neither side managed a shot on frame in the final 20 minutes of the stanza as the game went into the half still nil-nil.
The second half started much like the first ended, with play concentrated mostly in the midfield, as the only attempt in the first 15 minutes was a shot wide by Valpo’s Chadd Sult (South Bend./John Adams). But both teams started to turn up the heat, as the Braves forced Zobeck to make two saves off of their four shots between the 61st and 75th minutes, while Valpo attempted three shots during the same time span, including two off the foot of Rodolfo Lucas (Mogi Mirim, Brazil/ [Coffeyville C.C.]) that were blocked by Bradley defenders.
In the 76th minute, the Crusaders put their first shot on goal in over 55 minutes, and ended up making it count in a huge way. Senior Oscar Lomeli (Jalisco, Mexico/ [Bethel (Ind.)]) crossed a ball in the air into the box that sophomore Kyle Gentile (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg), seeing his first action of the 2008 campaign, got his head on and re-directed into the back of the net from five yards out, putting Valpo ahead 1-0.
A Bradley header in the 80th minute was wide of the frame as the Braves attempted to knot up the match. Valpo kept the pressure on looking for the equalizer, getting two shots in the next six minutes, but neither was on goal. With the margin still one goal nearing the end of the match, Bradley had one last opportunity, but its shot was wide of the mark, giving Valpo its first win over a top-25 opponent since the Crusaders downed then-#22 Wisconsin, 2-1, on Sept. 13, 2002.
“We got some great performances today from guys who typically don’t get talked about a lot, and I think that’s really a testament to the depth of our team,” said Avery. “We wanted to use a lot of guys today with the heat and the humidity, and ended up using 22 players to try and keep fresh legs out there. Brendan Roth (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) really did a terrific job for us in the midfield, while Kyle Gentile stepped right in in his first match of the year and got the match-winner for us. Zobeck had another great performance in net, making quite a few nice saves. Now we have a quick turnaround and play another tough opponent in Evansville on Sunday for the title.”
The Crusaders out-shot the Braves 11-10, as Lucas led the way for the Valpo offensive attack with three shot attempts. Zobeck made five saves to earn his second shutout in net for the Crusaders, while Van Kampen ended the match with three stops for Bradley (2-2-1). Valpo also held a slight 4-3 edge in corner kicks attempts.
Valparaiso (3-2-0) closes out action at the ProRehab Aces Soccer Classic on Sunday, as the Crusaders take on host Evansville, which entered the week receiving votes in both the NSCAA and Soccer Times top-25 polls. Faceoff against the Purple Aces is set for 1:30 p.m. CDT, and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. An audio webcast and live statistics can be found online at www.valpoathletics.com.