This past Labor Day weekend was no vacation for the Cornell men’s soccer team, as they kicked off their season with a trip to North Carolina.
On Saturday, the Red came up short against the NCAA United Soccer Coaches ranked No. 18 Wake Forest University, falling 2-1 in double overtime.
In the long-awaited opening contest, the Red faced a stiff test against perennial Atlantic Coast Conference power Wake Forest.
As anticipated, the starting 11 were a mixture of experienced returners and collegiate rookies. Four sophomores made their first NCAA start: forward Henry Hylbert, midfielder Lalo Serrano and defenders Mateo Rodriguez and Wilson Eisner.
Wake Forest started hot with a ninth-minute goal by sophomore midfielder Chase Oliver to put the Deacons up 1-0.
But for the rest of regular time, the Red’s defense held strong, refusing to let the game get out of reach. Junior goalkeeper Brady McSwain and the backline of Rodriguez, Eisner and senior Connor Drought kept Wake’s attack at bay. McSwain finished with three saves.
In the 81st minute, senior forward Emeka Eneli broke through the Deacon defense and found the equalizing goal to bring the score 1-1, assisted by senior forward Charles Touche.
That would prove to be all for Cornell at full-strength. In the 82nd and 89th minutes, red cards were handed to Touche and Hylbert, respectively. The Red entered sudden-death overtime with nine players to Wake’s 11.
The understaffed Red were unable to hold of the Deacons in overtime. Wake found the winning goal on the leg of senior forward Kyle Holcomb in the 100th minute, finalizing the tally at 2-1 Wake after two periods of overtime.
Fortunately for the Red, Wake Forest University and High Point University are only separated by a 25-minute drive, giving the team more time to recover and prepare for its second game of the season.
In spring 2021, the Highlanders went undefeated in conference play en route to a 12-2 record and NCAA tournament appearance. They entered Tuesday’s matchup hoping homefield could right the ship after a 2-0 loss at Virginia.
It was the Red, however, who bounced back from their early loss with a resounding 4-1 victory over High Point University.
Five minutes in, Eneli assisted senior midfielder Tyler Bagley to put the Red on top 1-0. The initial advantage would not hold for long. Three minutes later, junior forward MD Myers found the back of the net for the Highlanders to tie the game at 1-1.
That deadlock wouldn’t last long, either. In the 10th minute, senior forward Harry Fuller booted his first goal of the season to put the Red up 2-1.
The back-and-forth attacking play would continue for most of the first half. Around the 24th minute, McSwain made a flurry of saves to retain the one-goal advantage. He finished with five saves. Then, in the 37th minute, freshman forward Alioune Ka broke free to score the first goal of his NCAA career to bring Cornell’s lead 3-1.
The two-goal advantage allowed head coach John Smith to play a more conservative lineup in the second half. Smith also rotated in underclassmen, who gained valuable on-field experience. Bagley continued to put pressure on the Highlanders’ keeper and knocked one more into the nylon in the 87th minute to cement Cornell’s 4-1 victory.
The result should give the Red momentum as they return to Berman Field for their first home game in 664 days on Sept. 10 at 5 p.m. They’ll kick off against a St. Joseph’s University squad that defeated UNC-Greensboro 2-1 in their most recent outing.
In 2020, the St. Joseph Hawks finished 3-7, averaging 0.7 goals per game and 1.6 goals against. It’s likely to be a low-scoring affair unless Cornell’s attack continues to flourish. They’ll need to take advantage of St. Joseph freshman keeper Lars Haavie’s inexperience to come away with the win.
The Red will then host coast-hopping UC Santa Barbara (2-1-1) on Sunday Sept. 12 at 7 p.m.