Despite a strong offensive effort in its season opener Friday night, the Cornell men’s soccer team scored just one goal on home turf against Niagara in a tough loss, 3-1. Few expectations existed on either side before the match since the Niagara Purple Eagles (2-1-0), who usually compete in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference of the NCAA’s Division I, had never stepped on to the field with an Ivy League team before. The Red (0-1-0) has a history of starting off with its best cleat forward, holding a 33-25-8 record in season openers since 1964.
Junior Brett Petricek, the goalkeeper for the Purple Eagles, limited the Red’s offense by stopping 18 shots — more than double the number of opportunities seen by the Red’s junior goalie Rick Pflasterer. Petricek improved his record to 6-1 while Pflasterer stopped 4-of-7 shots, a low mark compared to his 0.86 goals-against average from last season — good for 37th in the nation.
“Today was a battle and it was about who wanted it more,” said Niagara head coach Chase Brooks. “The guys dug deep and worked hard for each other.”
The Purple Eagles made the first appearance on the scoreboard at 21:28 as senior forward Carl Haworth dribbled down the right sideline around the Cornell defense, attempting to enforce a strict offsides. Haworth found Mike Cunningham on the opposite end of the field and the junior midfielder finished it off from there, tapping the ball into the Cornell net. Haworth went on to add a second assist and another goal before the end of the contest. The ball found the back of Pflasterer’s net again through a redirection when a corner kick from Haworth was headed by junior midfielder Rene DeZorzi before the end of the first period. DeZorzi’s 6-2 height gave him a few inches of vertical over the Cornell defenders.
This time, the Red answered. With 10:32 remaining in the first half, Sophomore defenseman Patrick Slogic scored the first goal of his Cornell career as well as the Red’s season-opening point. The goal came after a free throw by Senior midfielder Jimmy Lennon rattled around in the penalty box before Slogic trapped it and sent it toward the net.
The Red’s offense continued to put heavy pressure on Petricek for the entirety of the second half, but was unsuccessful in its attempt to put the ball in the back of the Niagara net.
“We kept at it and did not stop until the final whistle,” said junior forward Tyler Regan. “We had a good fight back and it was a great team effort.”
Less than a minute into the final period, sophomore forward Daniel Haber’s spectacular header from a cross-field assist was deflected by Niagara over the crossbar. Pflasterer described the play as “one unbelievable save.” Several other shots on goal from within striking distance were denied by Petricek including another by Slogic mid-way through the second half. In total, the Red took three times as many corner kicks as the Purple Eagles in Friday’s contest, in addition to taking more than twice as many shots.
“It was a team effort to preserve the win,” Brooks said of his team after the victory against the Red. “Cornell came out strong in the second half and I’m proud of the hard work and the ability to close out the game.”
Unfortunately for the Red, all of Niagara’s shots were on-goal, and Haworth — the visitor’s key attacker — put a third ball in the Cornell net with just five minutes left in the game. Haworth sealed the deal for Cornell’s in-state rivals by chipping a ball into the air after passing behind the Red’s defensive line.
“We need to focus on being crisp in our finishing and making fewer mistakes in our back line,” Pflasterer said.
The Red will return to the pitch against Lafayette on Tuesday at 7 p.m., for another home game at Berman Field. The Lafayette Leopards (1-1-0) hail from Easton, Pa. and play in the Patriot League. Thus far, junior forwards Blake Fink and Kyle Scharfenberg have been doing most of the damage for the Leopards. Scharfenberg scored four goals in 2010 and Fink, who appeared in ever game, scored two. Lafayette’s first win of the year came against Rider in a double-overtime season opener which ended in the Leopards’ favor, 2-1.
“Lafayette was my first opponent as a Cornell player and we tied that game,” Pflasterer recalled. “We have also lost to them in overtime, so I think this is a huge game.”
Both the Leopards and the Red are relatively evenly matched, though the Red is learning to play with a large group of freshmen. In total, one third of the players on this year’s squad are new to Cornell. Freshmen Matt Mardesich and Conor Goepel saw playing time in Friday’s match. According to Regan, Cornell head coach Jaro Zawislan has focused on transitioning the new players into the program and training them for future seasons with the Red.
“Coach told us to work hard and get a result,” he said of Zawislan’s advice for Tuesday’s game. “There is not a single Division I team that cannot beat any other Division I team.”
Original Author: Rob Moore