The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team returned home following a five-match road trip Saturday night, taking on Horizon League foe Belmont at Brown Field. The Crusaders got on the board early, but would eventually have to settle for a 1-1 draw.
“It was a difficult night to play with the wind, rain, and the slick field, but it was fair to both teams – so even though we didn't really like the conditions, there are no excuses there,” head coach Mike Avery said following the game.
Junior Adrian Graham (Kingston, Jamaica/St. George's College) started things off for the Crusaders in the 13th minute. Following a clearance off a corner, senior Jacob Gandarilla (Albuquerque, N.M./Shattuck-St. Mary's [Minn.] (SMU)) sent a long service into the box, which was touched over from Matthew Gweh (Apple Valley, Minn./Eastview (High Point)) to Graham, who knocked it inside the left post for his first goal of the season.
Belmont (3-11-2, 1-5-1 Horizon) would answer in the 41st minute. Following a set piece, the Bruins gained control in the box. Thailer Usonis’ initial shot was saved by Crusader goalkeeper Nico Campbell (Kingston, Jamaica/St. George’s College), but the rebound found the feet of Rashad Hyacenth, who converted for his sixth goal of the season.
“Belmont did a good job of finding an equalizing goal late in the first half off a set piece, and then effectively managing the game through the rest of the second half with the wind in their face,” said Avery. “I give them a lot of credit because that was a draw Belmont can feel good about. They actually had a few good looks to steal all three points, though Nico Campbell came up big for us, as he always does.”
The teams ended the match fairly evenly matched on the stat sheet, as Belmont out-shot Valpo by a narrow 15-13 margin and put nine shots on frame to the Crusaders’ seven. Campbell recorded a season-high eight saves on the night, while Bruins goalkeeper Grayson Rector stopped six shots.
“Our group started the game very well, but we let a little adversity unsettle us,” said Avery. “From halftime on, the game was a struggle for us. Whatever the issue was, it's on me as the coach because I wasn't able to find a better way to bring out the best in the team for the game. We had plenty of time to prepare, rest, and get our energy right, yet we didn't follow through. The staff is already evaluating what could or should be done differently for the last three games - there is too much talent in the room for performances like that at this time of the year. The good news is that we get another chance on Wednesday. UIC is a very good team and we will have to be a lot sharper than we were tonight if we hope to take anything out of that game.”
Valparaiso (6-4-5, 2-1-3 Horizon) will return to action on Wednesday night back home at Brown Field when they take on UIC at 7:30p.m. The match can be seen live on ESPN3.com, with live stats also available via ValpoAthletics.com.