On Senior Day at Brown Field Sunday, all six Valparaiso seniors took to the pitch as part of the starting 11, and it was senior Paul Leitelt
(Munster, Ind./Munster) who scored the eventual match-winning goal in the 55th minute as the Crusaders earned a 3-0 victory in Horizon League play over Detroit to close the regular season.
“Today was a very good day for us,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “This was a day to honor our seniors, starting with a breakfast we held this morning and right up through the end of the game. I thought we played with good energy. It was tight for a while, but when we broke through, the first goal really seemed to soften Detroit up and we were able to push for our final two scores.”
The first 45 minutes went by scoreless, but not for lack of trying, as the Crusaders put together a couple stellar chances in the latter portions of the half. Clayton Lyons (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) had a shot from the left flank in the 39th minute that went inches wide of the far post, while Detroit netminder Paul Graf punched a J.J. Del Castillo (Mexico City, Mexico/Seaholm [Gardner-Webb]) attempt just over the crossbar in the 43rd minute.
Leitelt finally broke through for the Brown and Gold in the 55th minute, however. The senior had his initial shot from about 18 yards out saved by Graf, but the rebound came right back to Leitelt. He dribbled in a few more steps and let fly from ten yards out on the left side, finding the back of the net just inside the far post for his fourth goal of the year.
Valpo notched its first insurance tally on a Detroit own goal in the 61st minute. Goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West) boomed a punt to the top of the opposite 18-yard box, where Crusader forward Steve Shively (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) was fighting for position with a Titan defender. The Detroit player got his foot on the ball, but chipped it back toward his own goal, where it eluded Graf’s grasp and crossed the goal line.
The Crusaders’ final goal came in the 81st minute of the match from their Coffeyville connection. Rodolfo Lucas (Mogi Mirim, Brazil/ [Coffeyville C.C.]) took a shot from the left side about 15 yards away that was saved by Graf. Once again, however, the Detroit netminder did not cover up, and Israel Bisoni (Senador Amaral, Brazil/ [Coffeyville C.C.]) was in the middle of the box eight yards out to gather the rebound and put it into the gaping net for his first goal in Division I soccer.
Valpo out-shot Detroit (4-12-1, 1-6-1 Horizon) by a 20-15 margin and placed 12 shots on frame to the Titans’ eight. Zobeck turned aside all eight attempts for his fifth clean sheet of the year, tied for second-most in a single year all-time at Valpo, while Graf stopped nine shots. The Crusaders showcased their depth on the day, getting 27 players into the match.
“It was good to send the seniors off with a win today and also good to see a lot of the future on the pitch,” said Avery. “As always, our team seems to go as Andrew Stewart (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) goes. He was the anchor in the back for us against today and was very, very good, winning most of the balls in the air and organizing our defense.”
“Paul scored a terrific goal for us that really broke the game open,” continued Avery on his seniors. “Clifton Brown (Chillicothe, Ohio/Unioto) was very solid at the right back today, while Brett Bermes (Portage, Ind./Portage) was also solid and did a lot of good work for us in the midfield. I thought Oscar Lomeli (Jalisco, Mexico/ [Bethel (Ind.)]) really played well in the second half when he partnered with Clayton up front. That duo changed the game and put Detroit under sustained pressure by holding the ball forward, which really wore them down.”
“But I thought the real story of the game today in terms of performance was Yuuki Guzmán (Tokyo, Japan/Seoul [Korea] Foreign),” concluded Avery. “He was fantastic for us today right from the opening whistle. He is a great player, but just hasn’t gotten into our regular rotation and showed today he is definitely capable.”
Valparaiso (6-9-3, 1-6-1 Horizon) concluded the regular season in a tie for eighth place in the league standings and will earn the eighth seed based on today’s win. The Crusaders will await the results of tonight’s final league regular season contest to learn who they will face on Thursday in the opening round of the Horizon League Championship.