Valparaiso tied a program record with its fourth straight shutout and kept pace atop the Horizon League standings as the Crusaders got a goal from Charles Barden (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Linn-Mar) in the 59th minute to defeat Loyola 1-0 in Chicago, Ill. on Wednesday evening.
“Tonight was a very important win for us tonight,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “Our goal coming into this year, first of all, was to get to the Horizon League tournament. I’m not sure if we’ve for sure mathematically clinched that yet, but we’ve certainly helped ourselves a lot tonight to achieve that. Beyond that, we’ve put ourselves in a great position to achieve a higher seed and possibly even win the title – those are all things that are still out there for us to play for.”
The four consecutive clean sheets by the Crusaders matches the record set last season, when Valpo shut out four straight opponents from Sept. 10-19. Valpo has not conceded since allowing an 85th minute goal against Oral Roberts on Oct. 9, a stretch of over 385 minutes, just 18 minutes shy of the team record scoreless streak set last year. Junior goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West) has played every minute of this stretch as well, setting new program individual marks tonight for consecutive shutouts and time played without conceding.
Valpo’s back four has been impressive during the stretch of consecutive shutouts as well. The quartet of seniors – Wei Ming Wong (Hong Kong/Hong Kong International [SMU]) and Stefan Antonijevic (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson [College of Lake County/Marquette]) at center back and Chadd Sult (South Bend, Ind./John Adams) and Kelvin Zelee (South Bend, Ind./John Adams [Indiana]) at full back - has played all but 25 minutes combined over the last four games, helping to keep the opposition off the scoreboard.
Zobeck, the back four and the entire Crusader lineup has especially done a tremendous job recently shutting teams down in the second half of play. Loyola registered just one shot over the final three quarters of an hour tonight, meaning the Crusaders have allowed just two total shot attempts in the second half over the last three games. Valpo has not conceded a shot on goal in the second half over the last three fixtures as well.
The Crusaders and Ramblers struggled for good scoring opportunities in the first half on Wednesday, as the teams combined for just seven total shot attempts, including just two on goal, both by Valpo. Loyola had perhaps the best effort of the opening 45, as off a corner kick in the sixth minute, Kyle Spoo got a shot off from about 10 yards out that went just wide of the right-hand post. Brendan Roth (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) and Jaymie Bullard (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) had the Crusaders’ best shots in the first half, both coming from distance and Bullard’s forcing Loyola netminder Peter McKeown to make one of his two stops.
Valpo got the only goal it would need in the 59th minute. With the Crusaders pressuring in the offensive end, Kevin Miller (Jefferson City, Mo./Helias) crossed the ball from the right flank to Barden at the top of the box. With his back to goal, Barden made a great individual effort, turning one way to get his defender off-balance and then spinning back the other direction and letting a right-footed shot go that found the upper-left portion of the net for the game’s first and only goal. For Barden, it was his team-best fourth goal of the season.
The Ramblers were able to pick up just a single shot attempt that went wide in the 60th minute following the Crusaders’ goal. Zobeck did not have to make a save in tallying his ninth clean sheet of the year, moving within one of Ryan Schwarz’s career shutout record with his 16th career shutout. McKeown made three saves in goal in the losing effort for Loyola (3-11-1, 1-5-0 Horizon).
“Even though this maybe wasn’t our best and sharpest performance, I thought the weather, playing against the wind in the first half, certainly had something to do with it, as did the fact we were facing a determined Loyola team,” said Avery. “I told our guys after the match that tonight was a result that helps win championships, winning a tough game against a tough team in tough conditions. I’m just really proud of our performance tonight.”
Now the only team with less than two losses in Horizon League action, Valparaiso (8-5-3, 4-0-1 Horizon) returns home to Brown Field to try to remain unbeaten in league play Saturday evening against UIC. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.
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