Playing in its regular season finale Friday night at Brown Field, the Valparaiso University men’s soccer team took its chances well early to gain a quick lead and then stood strong defensively throughout, as the Crusaders earned a 3-0 Horizon League victory over Green Bay. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, the win was not enough to push their side into the field for the Horizon League Championship.
“It was certainly a bittersweet night for us as we felt good about a really solid performance, but we were sad to then learn that the other results didn't fall our way, and we weren't able to advance into the playoffs,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “A lot of ‘what ifs’ will flash through the mind tonight. We had a lot of injuries in the last two weeks that unsettled us, but those are things that every team goes through. Take away a hit post in overtime here or a questionable call that did not go our way there, and the table could look a lot different. But, this is a result oriented business and there are no excuses or rationalizations. We just didn't do enough over the course of the conference season, and it is as simple as that.”
“The good news is that the program will have nearly every player back next year and this is a group that has high end potential,” continued Avery. “Their quality is very clear to see. We added 18 new faces to a 30-man roster after graduating 10 players a year ago, so in some ways it is not surprising that you go through a season with some ups and downs. And, when you see the team play you can see why the expectations that surround the team grew - maybe even faster than the group was ready to handle. There are so many lessons to take from the season, though, and plenty of positives to celebrate.”
Valpo started out on the front foot on the attack from the get-go on Friday night, controlling possession, pushing forward and tallying a few speculative efforts in the opening minutes before cracking the scoreboard in the 11th minute. A ball in the area was knocked around before eventually being cleared by a Green Bay defender, but the clearance would only make it as far as just outside the top of the box. Waiting there was sophomore Ramone Howell (Portmore, Jamaica/Jamaica College), who lined up the ball on the short hop and blasted a volley from 20 yards out into the back of the net to give the Crusaders the lead.
Junior Nico Campbell (Kingston, Jamaica/St. George’s College) was asked to make his first save of the match in the 13th minute, and the Crusaders pushed forward again following that stop. The ensuing attack resulted in a Crusader being taken down in the box by a Green Bay defender, and the referee awarded Valpo the penalty kick. Senior Jordan Aidoud (Lyon, France/CEFAM) calmly stepped up and slotted home the spot kick to put the Crusaders ahead 2-0 inside of the quarter-hour mark.
Even with the two-goal advantage, Valpo continued to pile on the pressure in a first half that saw the Crusaders enjoy a 13-2 edge in shots. In the 36th minute, the continued attacking mentality paid off for a third goal. Junior Isaiah Madrid (Albuquerque, N.M./Eldorado [FGCU]) took a short corner to senior Jacob Gandarilla (Albuquerque, N.M./Shattuck-St. Mary’s [SMU]), who proceeded to switch fields over to Howell. Howell knocked it out to the right flank for junior Suleiman Thomas (Chicago, Ill./Lake Forest Academy), who took a couple dribbles before unleashing a shot from 25 yards out that beat Green Bay goalkeeper Kyle Ihn to make it 3-0.
Given the three-goal edge at the break, the Crusader defense just had to make sure nothing calamitous happened on that side of the ball in the second half, and backstopped by Campbell, were able to keep the clean sheet. Campbell made five of his six saves in the last three-quarters of an hour, including a pair of stops on an early flurry in the box in the 49th minute before Green Bay’s third effort was brought back for offsides.
Valparaiso ended the match with a 16-12 edge in shots and put eight on goal to six for Green Bay (5-10-3, 2-5-2 Horizon). Ihn stopped five shots for the Phoenix, while Campbell’s six saves resulted in the eighth shutout of the season for both himself and the team. The eight clean sheets in a single season are second-most in Crusader history, while Campbell’s GAA of 0.76 was the second-lowest in a season all-time at Valpo. In addition, the Crusaders surrendered just 15 goals on the year, just one shy of the 2011 side’s record of 14.
While the Crusaders earned the win Friday evening, they were kept on the outside looking in to the Horizon League Championship field despite a .500 mark in league play, as both Detroit and Cleveland State came away with wins Friday as well. The win Friday closes the season for Valpo with a 7-6-5 overall record, a mark which includes a program-record unbeaten streak, as well as two wins and a draw against nationally-ranked sides – the first season in program history with multiple results against top-25 teams. Seniors Aidoud, Gandarilla and Jorge Bermudez (Lake Zurich, Ill./Lake Zurich) each started and finished their final game in a Crusader uniform as well Friday.
“We had another winning season, and only the second time with back-to-back winning seasons in the history of the program,” said Avery. “We had some big wins against nationally ranked opponents, we were ranked in the top-10 of the Great Lakes region for the majority of the season, had the longest unbeaten streak in program history, and we had another tremendous season defensively with eight shutouts and the second lowest goals against and goals against average in program history. There is much to celebrate. This will sting for a bit, but there is no question the program continues to move in the right direction.”
“We also need to celebrate the career of three vital seniors - Jorge Bermudez, Jacob Gandarilla, and Jordan Aidoud,” concluded Avery. “You couldn't ask any more of a senior class. These three have left the jersey in a better place than they found it, and at the end of the day that is a legacy we hope we can all say we've left behind.”