By Collin Bolebruch
The Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team has a message for the SUNYAC: it has arrived.
The Cardinals (4-1) won four of its first five games by a combined score of 10-0, its best start in five seasons. Each one of its matchups has come at home and against non-conference opponents.
Plattsburgh started its season with the Cardinal Classic from Sept. 2 to Sept. 3. The first game came on Friday against the Keene State Owls (0-1), a game in which the Cardinals won 2-0. Midfielder Brian Coughlan assisted both defender Jack Healy and midfielder John Hayes in scoring a goal. Goalie Teddy Healy saved all four of Keene State’s shots on goal.
Much of the same came Saturday, as Plattsburgh beat the DeSales University Bulldogs (0-2) by a score of 2-0. Coughlan and midfielder Rocky Bujaj each scored once, and Teddy Healy saved both of the shots aimed in his direction.
For their weekend efforts, Coughlan and Jack Healy were rewarded with the SUNYAC men’s soccer offensive and defensive athlete of the week awards, respectively. During the Cardinal Classic, Coughlan recorded two assists and a goal. Jack Healy led a defense to two shutout wins while he also scored a goal of his own.
“There’s a lot of guys that deserve credit,” head coach Chris Taylor said. “We’re happy for them, we hope that they get a lot of them, but as long as we’re winning the weekly awards are what they are. We won’t remember them at the end of the season if we don’t achieve our goals.”
The week after Sept. 7, the Cardinals hosted the Castleton University Spartans (0-2). Plattsburgh won the game 5-0, and in doing so produced three straight shutouts to start the season for the first time since 2012. The egg on Castleton’s side of the box score wasn’t the result of a bad opponent offense.
“I think everyone knows the importance of not giving up goals. It is something we’ve definitely focused on because it has been something that’s been important to us over the years that maybe got away from us last year,” Taylor said.
The Cardinals defense allowed zero opponent shots on goal and just three shots total. It helped that the Plattsburgh offense had its best game of the season, and more than doubled its point total on the season with five shots that hit the back of the net. The ball was distributed well, too. No players scored more than one goal or added more than one assist. The win was a true team effort and a statement by an improved squad, especially offensively.
“Not letting up shots [has been crucial], so I don’t have to do much,” Teddy Healy said. “The offense has been playing well so far, we’re getting a lot of shots so we’re putting the ball away.”
The Cardinals next game came again at home Sept. 10 against the RPI Engineers (1-2-1). After an undefeated start, Plattsburgh dropped its first game against the winless Rensselaer. The stout defense that the Cards had established this season faltered, and it lost 1-2. Plattsburgh’s lone goal came from forward Alex Graci, who scored unassisted.
Teddy Healy wasn’t his usual self, as he allowed two goals, both from RPI’s forward Paul Silva, on just five shots sent his way.
The Cardinals problems came to light in this game. They had done fine in games prior, but now defensive mishaps were not backed up by scoring that Plattsburgh has lacked to generate. It only put up two shots on goal total against the Engineers.
“We had a great battle with RPI,” Taylor said. “We got sucked into their game a bit.”
The Cards had time to sit on this loss, as their next game came Sept. 13 at home facing the Russell Sage Gators (1-2-1). In the last game before the conference season, it needed to win and spark another positive streak. Win it did, Plattsburgh came away from this game out on top with a final score of 1-0.
It didn’t come easy. The Gators presented a strong challenge and gave the Cardinals its grittiest game of the season so far. The day was marred by the threat of thunderstorms, but the game continued as planned in the sprinkle of rain and eventual downpour that set the stage for the second half.
The game started slow, both teams played the game of possession. The Cardinals had full control, and Russell Sage put up no shots in the first half. Nine fouls were called and a yellow card was handed out — a strong sign of the physicality that was brought to this game.
With less than 20 seconds left before the end of the half, a foul was called on Russell Sage’s midfielder Braxton Harper. The referee set up Plattsburgh’s defender Andrew Braverman with a foul kick on the halfway line.
Braverman placed the ball to his liking and took a swing at it. The play was soon called dead. Russell Sage’s coach, Amir Pasic, called for a handball. The referee realized and admitted his mistake of not explaining the situation properly and allowed for another chance at the kick at fault of himself. The game was held up momentarily for an exchange of words between Pasic and the referee, which included shouting and coarse language.
Braverman was given the second kick, and he passed it downfield to midfielder Danny Perry. Perry kicked the ball toward a mass of bodies near the goal and hoped for a Cardinal to make contact. Jack Healy connected to the pass and put the ball in the net for Plattsburgh’s lone goal on the day.
“[The goal] definitely helped the team’s attitude a lot, it affected the game a lot because we only ended up getting one,” Jack Healy said.
The team celebrated and the half came to a close. Taylor and Pasic shared some words before they parted ways.
“[Keeping the team level-headed] is tough. There was a lot going on there with officials, with their bench, and I think that had a massive effect on the game,” said Taylor. “We’ve got to learn from that because there’s going to be some tough environments out there.”
The second half of the game continued just as the first, as 10 fouls were called and three yellow cards were handed out. Multiple players went down on tackles and a mild scuffle dispersed quickly toward the end of the game.
Teddy Healy helped to put the game away with two clutch saves in the waning minutes and the second half ended with no additional scores. The two teams shook hands and gave words of congratulations in the pouring rain.
The Cardinals’ offensive problems were not solved in this game, but its defense did not bend. To hang with the top of the conference, Plattsburgh needs to step up the scoring.
“It’s a quick turnaround. I think we’ve just got to tweak a few things, get everyone recovered, make sure we’re healthy and just fine tune a lot of the details,” Taylor said.
The strong start bodes well for the Cardinals heading into conference play. Nine of its next 12 games are against SUNYAC opponents. These games are crucial for playoff seeding and Plattsburgh is looking to improve on its 4-4-1 SUNYAC record last season.
The Cards travel to Cortland for its first away game of the season, taking on the nationally-ranked No.17 Red Dragons (4-2) Sept. 17. Plattsburgh lost to Cortland last season by a score of 1-2 and have an all-time record of 22-39-5 against it. A win on Saturday could cement the Cardinals’s place in the SUNYAC.
“Before the more important games, very intensive practice,” said midfielder John Hayes. “It’s very technical, very intense when we get to practice.”