The Plattsburgh State men’s soccer team had scored only one goal from open play all season; No. 24 Clarkson had not conceded from open play all season. Both of those statistics took less than half a minute to change Saturday in Potsdam.
The Cardinals (2-3-2) went home with a 2-0 victory against the previously undefeated Golden Knights (5-1-0). The game was their final preparation before kicking off SUNYAC play at home against The College at Brockport (5-2-0) today at 4 p.m. and SUNY Geneseo (2-2-2) tomorrow at 1 p.m.
PSUC head coach Chris Taylor, in his first match against Clarkson after coaching the team for the last four years, was pleased with the way his team started.
Junior midfielder Connor Nembach stole the ball from a Clarkson defender and passed to senior midfielder Taka Fukushima to get him behind the defense..
“Obviously, Clarkson was a ranked opponent,” Taylor said. “They were undefeated. They hadn’t conceded from open play, and we burst that within 19 seconds”
For a team that hadn’t found the back of the net in the previous three matches, the goal was an important one.
“It was celebrated like an overtime winner,” Taylor said. “You almost felt the pressure lifting off them.”
Victory for the Cards was ensured by a late goal from senior forward Chris Robertson that Taylor described as “a magnificent individual goal.”
“I missed a pretty easy chance a few minutes before that, so I was trying to take it a little bit slower that time,” Robertson. “It was a great pass from Taka to put me one-on-one with the goalkeeper. I just hit it and was lucky to find the back of the net.”
The game marked the third straight clean sheet for PSUC, as the team has conceded only six goals in seven matches. In the SUNYAC conference, only Buffalo State and SUNY Cortland have conceded fewer goals per game this season.
“We’ve been doing a high-press style of defending,” Robertson said. “It starts from the front and goes all the way back. We’ve been doing a good job not letting teams get comfortable and play their style. If we are always swarming the ball, it makes it hard for them to make decisions.”
In addition to praising centerback pair Joe Gula and Michael Grald for showing significant improvement as a partnership on the season, Taylor singled out Nembach, Fukushima and senior captain Alex Price for their defensive contributions in the midfield.
“Alex Price: the ground he covers hassling people,” Taylor said. “He hasn’t gotten the rewards yet on the offensive end, but what he does for the team defensively as a forward player goes completely unnoticed by so many people.”
The win over a ranked opponent will be a major boost for the Cards as they begin conference play this weekend.
In the first full week of practice since the preseason, PSUC is working hard to prepare for back-to-back games against Brockport and Geneseo, who both made the SUNYAC playoffs in 2017.
“Playing one of those teams is tough enough,” Taylor said. “Trying to do it with a turnaround of less than 24 hours is quite crazy.”
The matches will be the Cards’ first home contests since 2-1 losses to William Paterson and Springfield on Aug. 21 and Sept. 1. Despite that, nobody on the team is taking the weekend’s opposition lightly.
“I have the ultimate respect for both of these teams,” Nembach said. “The SUNYAC is tough. All the teams are really talented.”
Robertson, whose two goals from open play this season leads the team, is particularly focused in preparation for the weekend. Tuesday, before a strength and fitness training session for the team, Robertson was on the field more than 30 minutes early taking passes to work on his first touch and turn toward goal.
For Robertson, whom Taylor describes as “so talented, but incredibly hard on himself,” this is a common practice.
“When the SUNYAC starts, it’s definitely time to put up or shut up,” Robertson said. “I just want to try and do my part.”
Taylor said Robertson is not alone in seeking out extra practice, and it is something he encourages everybody to do, because it is something he always wanted from the coaching staff as a player.
“We pretty much do it every day of the week,” Taylor said. “Guys will shoot me a text or an email and say ‘can we work on this?’ I love it when players want to improve.”
The games only get more important as conference play begins, with points in the conference standings on the line, but the Cards focused on themselves and what they could improve during practice this week.
Going into conference play will lift the team morale a bit, but in some respects the team’s confidence was never lacking.
“I don’t think, at any point, we really got down on ourselves,” Robertson said. “We feel we should have more wins than we do. That’s just how soccer is sometimes.
Email Nathanael LePage at firstname.lastname@example.org