By Collin Bolebruch
Nothing is sweeter than taking down your biggest rival on its home turf, except for doing so with a playoff berth on the line.
The Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team (6-4-2) beat the Oswego Lakers (4-6-2) 2-1 Oct. 8. Senior Juan Velez, who is tied for the team’s second most goals, missed the match because of unspecified family matters. The absence was brief, as he was back for Plattsburgh’s game the next week. The win ended a recent 0-2-1 slide and prevented the Lakers from jumping the Cardinals in the SUNYAC standings. Plattsburgh now stands at fourth in the conference, accumulating eight points from a 2-2-2 record.
The Cardinals’ last three games included a 1-1 tie on the road against the Potsdam Bears (4-4-4), which came off the momentum of 2-0 home victory against the Geneseo Knights (7-4-2), and a 1-2 loss at home against the Brockport Golden Eagles (8-1-4).
Headed into this past weekend, the Cardinals knew that the Lakers were the win that it needed to revitalize its season.
Plattsburgh has an extensive history with Oswego on every field the schools compete on. This win extends the Cardinals’ men’s soccer undefeated streak to 11 straight seasons with no losses to the Lakers. The two teams’ all-time record is now 33-15-5 in Plattsburgh’s favor.
The victory last Saturday was especially sour, as it kept Oswego from earning its first home win of this season.
Graduate student Trey Ekert and sophomore John Hayes, both assisted by sophomore Brian Coughlan, scored Plattsburgh’s points. Haye’s goal ties him with Velez for second-most on the team, and Coughlan extends his lead in assists with seven. Sophomore Teddy Healy saved three goals in addition to the one he allowed.
The win didn’t come easy. For the first half of the game, the Cardinals were searching for a spark on offense. By the half, Oswego held a 1-0 lead despite being outshot by Plattsburgh 4-6.
Five different Cardinals took shots, but only one was on target. The lone shot on goal was taken by senior Cole Weiner and saved by Oswego first-year Andre Bourjolly.
Plattsburgh’s lack of scoring was reminiscent of last week’s stretch of games. Allowing a goal to Laker senior Ryan Young put the Cardinals in a familiar deficit.
“You’re down 1-0, we saw this game as a cup final a little bit with our backs against the wall. To be honest, I think three or four guys said, ‘we’re not losing today,’” Head Coach Coach Taylor said. “We talked at halftime, we needed shots. We were in shooting positions in the first half, and we didn’t take them.”
The Cards were determined to not let history repeat itself. Just over two minutes into the second half, Plattsburgh was back to taking shots.
Before the Cardinals could score, though, Weiner reaggravated an injury from earlier in the game. An Oswego slide caused him to hit the ground, and he hesitated to stand up. Trainers met him on the turf and he was walked off the pitch. He was replaced by Ekert.
Ten minutes later, Ekert scored a Cardinal goal to erase the deficit. Coughlan’s shot was saved and sent back his way, prompting him to put the ball in front of an advancing Ekert, who put the ball in the net.
“Everyone is willing to step in and do their job where we needed to,” Coughlan said.
Soon after, Plattsburgh lost another starter after senior Christian Garner was involved in a collision near the goal. A header attempt connected with a Laker, leaving Garner on the pitch. Garner exited the game and first-year Tony Kochelev substituted in.
The loss of players is not foreign to this year’s Cardinals. Healy, Hayes and Velez, key starters, all missed time over the previous two weeks. Plattsburgh has had to make adjustments between games and adapt to these challenging circumstances.
“We didn’t even speak about [Juan’s absence] because again, I think there’s guys who get hungry for a chance,” Taylor said. “When you lose, there’s some fingers getting pointed all around, and we just needed more from everyone. We’ve got a good squad.”
Plattsburgh took the lead just over 10 minutes after its first goal. Coughlan sent a corner kick toward the goal box that was put in with a header by Hayes. With under 15 minutes left, all the Cards needed to do was hold on.
“We remembered last year and how we missed the playoffs,” Hayes said. “This was a crucial game for us to win and make the playoffs, so we said, ‘this wasn’t going to happen again.’ We fought hard.”
Over the course of the rest of the game, Plattsburgh recorded three shots and took three corner kicks. The game, already chippy, started to intensify. Six yellow cards were handed out in a five minute period, joining three others assigned earlier in the game. Shoves were exchanged between players during some of the more intense exchanges.
The end of the game was met with celebration and a speech by Taylor. The win acts to rejuvenate a Cardinals season marred by a recent difficult stretch of games. Plattsburgh knew that it needed to win this game, and it wasn’t going to be denied by one of its biggest rivals.
“[The win] is huge for us. The environment here is great. Hopefully we keep this going into next week and we stay rolling,” Hayes said.
Plattsburgh came back home to face the Oneonta Red Dragons (8-2-2), who stand just one spot behind the Cardinals in the SUNYAC standings, with seven total points to Plattsburgh’s eight. Oneonta won 1-0, and Plattsburgh now sits at fifth in the conference.
The Cardinals play the Fredonia Blue Devils (2-8-3) Oct. 15 at home for its Senior Day.
“We needed [the win]. We needed it badly,” Taylor said. “I think we’re a program that’s always thrived with our backs against the wall.”