The Valparaiso men’s soccer team came out on the wrong end of a hard-fought 1-0 decision Saturday afternoon against Western Kentucky. The game, the second of three exhibition matchups for the Crusaders, was played at nearby Portage H.S.
“We are extremely grateful for Portage’s generosity in letting us use their field today,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “It was a good day for us, as we got the chance to play against a big, athletic team. Western Kentucky really challenged us physically, which was an eye-opening experience for some of our younger players, but we handled it pretty well.”
The first half was contested largely in the midfield, as just five combined shots were taken, with just two of those being placed on frame. The two squads were called for 16 total fouls as the game went into halftime scoreless.
The first big scoring threat for either team came midway through the second half, when Valpo’s Mario Diaz (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel (South Suburban [Ill.]) flicked a header toward an opening on the left side of the goal. But the ball ricocheted harmlessly off the post, and the game remained scoreless.
In the 78th minute, the Hilltoppers put the only goal of the game on the board. Samuel Drummond took a short corner kick to Benard Airo, who sent a cross to the far side of the six-yard box. Glen Marshall was there to head the ball into the back of the net to put Western Kentucky ahead by the final margin.
“That goal was my fault,” said Avery. “I had just put in a few substitutes, and the group I had together out on the field had not spent much time working together on set plays, and Western Kentucky took advantage.”
The Crusaders put together one more quality scoring chance in the 85th minute, as Zack Stivers (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) found himself with the ball in the box with Western Kentucky keeper Kyle Schroeder out of position. But Stivers’ shot was cleared by a Hilltopper defender just before reaching the goal line, and Western Kentucky held on for the win.
The two teams finished very even in the final numbers. The Hilltoppers held a slight advantage in shots, 9-7, and in shots on goal, 4-3. Crusader goalie Ryan Schwarz (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) made three saves, while Schroeder and Pat Rickman stopped one shot apiece for WKU. Valpo held a 2-1 edge in corner kicks, and committed 19 fouls to Western Kentucky’s 11.
“At this point in the season, we’re more worried about our performance than the actual result,” said Avery. “Despite the final outcome today, overall it was a good day on the field, and it will help us as the regular season approaches.”
Valparaiso (0-1-1 exhibition) will close out its preseason slate on Monday, as the Crusaders travel to Goshen to take on the Maple Leafs. The game is slated to begin at 6 p.m. CDT.