The Valparaiso University men’s soccer team saw its season come to an end on Tuesday afternoon in Peoria, Ill. as Drake advanced by topping the Crusaders 4-2 in Missouri Valley Conference Tournament action. The match was scoreless at halftime, before all six goals were scored in the final 45 minutes. Rafael Mentzingen (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / Bryan) notched the first goal of the match, a highlight-reel effort that gave the Crusaders a temporary edge.
How It Happened
- The Crusaders (8-9-1) controlled possession in the early going, putting the pressure on the Bulldogs (6-10-2) by taking four of the match’s first five shots. One of those shots was placed on goal by Ramone Howell (Portmore, Jamaica / Jamaica College), with Caden McCullough making the save.
- After the Crusaders dominated the shot count for the first 13 minutes, the Bulldogs had the next three chances, with Nacho Miras (Ubeda, Spain / Nuestra Semora del Pilar) notching a pair of saves to keep the scoreless deadlock intact.
- Mentzingen sped to the top of the box and fired off a shot in the 44th minute, but McCullough was there to make the save on a well-struck ball, keeping the match scoreless going into halftime.
- The Crusaders outshot the Bulldogs 6-5 and each squad placed two shots on frame during an evenly-matched first half.
- Mentzingen scored an impressive goal in the 58th minute by beating a slew of defenders and finishing lower left to put the Crusaders ahead 1-0. Jonas Engler (Illingen, Germany / Georg Kerschensteiner Scule) gave it to Mentzingen and was credited with the assist. The finish came from 15 yards out.
- The Bulldogs had a quality ball in the 70th minute, but Miras made a nifty save to turn away a shot by Gabe Edel.
- Shortly thereafter, the Bulldogs drew even, as Alex Peterson headed one inside the right post from 2 yards out. The play started with a long throw-in, then Jake Taylor headed it to Peterson.
- The Bulldogs took a temporary lead after a hand ball in the box on the Crusaders led to a Drake penalty kick. Taylor made the penalty shot in the 74th minute, putting his team ahead 2-1.
- The Drake advantage was short-lived, however, as the Bulldogs were whistled for a penalty in the box of their own, leading to a PK by Adan Garcia (Dallas, Texas / Episcopal School of Dallas). The Valpo sophomore improved to 2-for-2 on PKs this season, notching the equalizer in the 77th minute.
- Nic James delivered a tremendous cross in the 83rd minute, setting up Leroy Enzugusi, who had just returned to the field from the bench, for the go-ahead goal. He headed it in high right from 5 yards out, putting Drake up 3-2.
- The Crusaders created a flurry of chances down the final stretch, but McCullough came up large and finished the match with eight saves. The Crusaders outshot the Bulldogs 17-13 and outdid the opposition in shots on goal 10-7.
- James sealed it with a goal with 14.6 seconds remaining, accounting for the two-goal margin. The 90th-minute insurance goal was assisted by Enzugusi with the defense pushing up, allowing James to take an open shot from 10 yards.
Inside the Match
- Mentzingen’s goal increased his impressive total to nine on the season. He also boosted his season point total to 19, which ranked second on the team behind only Garcia.
- Engler picked up his third assist of the year and boosted his point total to nine as a freshman.
- Garcia’s goal was his ninth of the season, allowing him to finish in a tie for the team lead with Mentzingen. Garcia finished with a team-high 22 points, which is tied for seventh in program history for points in a single season.
- Mentzingen and Garcia both finished in the Top 10 for goals in a single season. Their output of nine apiece is tied for seventh all-time.
- Miras finishes the season with 61 saves and a 1.64 GAA, bumping Jeff Oleck’s 2005 season (1.71) out of the Top 10 for single-season GAA in program history.
- The Crusaders wave goodbye to a trio of seniors – Howell, Jacob Keck (Topeka, Kan. / Hayden Catholic) and Tunji Osifeso (Laurel, Md. / Laurel [Campbell]). Howell has been a fixture over the last four seasons, competing in 67 career matches, notching seven goals and accumulating seven assists. Keck has played in 43 games over four seasons and had two goals and two assists, while Osifeso joined the squad as a transfer this year.
- As a team, the Crusaders scored 30 goals this season, which is tied for sixth in program history for goals in a single year. The Crusaders have scored 30 or more goals in a season just twice since 1990 – the 2016 and 2017 seasons. This marks the first time since 1986-1987 Valpo has scored 30+ goals in back-to-back years.
- Valpo finishes with eight wins, tied for sixth in program history for victories in a single year.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mike Avery
“Obviously we are all very disappointed right now, but it was a good game, lots of chances for both teams, and you give full credit to Drake for the win. We wish them well tomorrow.
I’d also like to commend our hosts Bradley and the MVC on putting together a tremendous championship event. This is a different level – it has been a first-class event and something the players will appreciate for the rest of their lives.
From our perspective, this was another valuable experience to help a new and young team grow. It’s plain to see that we have lots of talent, especially attacking talent, but we are still growing defensively. We have been too open and need to tighten up and, most importantly, communicate better. We graduated six players a year ago that played in our back four, and a league Goalkeeper of the Year that is playing professionally - it’s no question that we had some growing up to do in the back. All of these guys are capable and they will get it, sometimes you just need time together.
Minus two senior starters, Howell and Keck, the whole team returns next year. This group will accomplish some amazing things before their time is done.
As for Ramone and Jacob, no coach could ask for a better pair of captains. They gave their heart to the program, not just today, but every day. I am immensely proud of them. They’ll both graduate next month - both a semester ahead of time - and I can’t wait to see what is next for them.”
The Crusaders will return the bulk of their team for the 2018 season.