Five, four, three, two, one – goal. End of the first half: 1-0 Lehigh.
That was the story of the men’s soccer team’s season opener against Lehigh as heard over the P.A. system at Berman field last Friday night. The Red is now 0-1-0 in this young season while Lehigh improves 1-0-0.
With 10 seconds left on the clock, Lehigh halted a Cornell offensive and quickly launched a counterattack. Left with one defender between him and the goal, the Mountain Hawk’s senior captain, Peter Classi, slipped a ball just inside the left post as time expired to give Lehigh the lead, and 45 minutes later, the win.
“We were left one-on-one in the back and we were ripe for the counterattack,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “That situation probably warrants a tactical foul to take the guy down in the final third or the middle third. We didn’t do it, and we learned from it – it was a terrible goal to give up.”
The goal was an unfortunate end to a promising first half that saw sparks of brilliance from a very young Red team. Cornell started four freshmen, including goalie Steve Lesser, and at one point over half the players on the field were playing in their first college game. Expectedly, the Red looked shaky in the opening minutes of the game, struggling to maintain possession and move the ball out of its half.
“I thought clearly in the first 15 minutes of the game we looked a little nervous, a little tentative,” Scales said. “We looked like a team that was just starting out and I think once we got through that initial 15 minutes we started to get things going and in the last 30 minutes of the first half I thought we played quite well.”
Playing in front of a vocal home crowd, the Red shook off its opening night jitters to take control of the match. Out-possessing Lehigh, Cornell generated several good scoring opportunities in the first half including a shot from freshman Dana Flanders inside the box which flew just wide of the net.
“I thought it was a good start for us,” said junior captain Brian Scruton. “We still have to make a lot of progress but this is the first time out and I think we’re exciting to watch.”
Crucial to keeping Cornell in the match during those early minutes was the play of Lesser in the net, who had seven saves in the game.
“It was a little bit nerve racking, first game out,” Lesser said “It was not the result we wanted and it was a tough one to swallow but I had fun out there and that’s what its all about.”
Lesser had to contend with an aerial bombardment as Lehigh tailored its offense around its 6-7 forward Jim “Big Jim” Stevens. Stevens received a steady supply of crosses sent in off of flip throw-ins by Lehigh defender Tom Zublake. Lesser relished the challenge of the physically intimidating Stevens.
“Knocking him down was a nice welcome to college soccer for me. I’m not even six foot and he’s a big man,” Lesser said. “It just gave me the confidence to lead the team and show us that we can do anything.”
Down 1-0 in the second half, Cornell struggled to find the rhythm it had achieved in the first half.
“I think in the second half we were kind of waiting for someone to do something instead of really aggressively going after the game,” Scales said.
Pushing forward in the final minutes of the game, Cornell produced a flurry of scoring opportunities. Lehigh goalie Charlie Sales was able to just get a hand on a curving free kick from Cornell senior Pape Saye, catching enough of the ball to deflect it off the crossbar. The ensuing corner kick led to a loose ball in front of the net, but the Red was not able to push in the equalizer. After weathering the Cornell blitz, Lehigh cleared the ball with less than a minute left, ensuring the win.
“I can guarantee that we’ll be exciting to watch. We’ve got some attacking guys that are good going forward and we’ll have our chances,” Scales said. “We need to get games under our belts, to learn more about ourselves and establish our identity and to really get our match fitness up.”
Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Staff Writer