By Collin Bolebruch
Most times, a game that ends in a tie is disappointing to both the fans and the team. Last weekend, the Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team earned a tie that might be the biggest win of its season so far.
The Cardinals (4-2-1) traveled to Cortland Sept. 17 to face the No.17 Red Dragons (4-3-2). The game ended in a 3-3 stalemate.
On paper, SUNY Cortland is Plattsburgh’s most prolific opponent of the season. Last season, it finished at the top of the SUNYAC with an 8-1 conference record and 18-3-1 overall. Cortland won the SUNYAC Championship last November, defeating the Oswego Lakers 6-0. It eventually lost in the third round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Plattsburgh missed the SUNYAC playoffs entirely last season.
As the Cardinals’ first road and conference game of the season, the Red Dragons were a steep challenge for a team that needs nothing more than to prove itself in the SUNYAC. Plattsburgh has been off to a hot start this season, with its best record in years and all of its wins coming in shutouts. This was a statement game.
The first half was manageable for the Cardinals. The game ran slow, and it wasn’t allowing the Red Dragons to heat up on offense. Just seven shots were made and three of them were Plattsburgh’s. Cortland scored the lone goal of the half, when senior Riley Williams put one in with 21:19 left on the clock.
The game started out messy. Twenty-one total fouls were handed out, and Cardinal senior Cole Weiner was handed a yellow card.
Down 0-1 headed into the second half, the Cardinals set itself up in a good position. As long as it continued to play its game, the game couldn’t get too far away from it.
The Cards almost immediately took advantage of the small deficit. About six minutes later and a Cortland missed shot later, Plattsburgh put itself on the board. Sophomore Brian Coughlan assisted junior Dylan Shalvey, who put the ball in off of a crossbar rebound. The goal came amidst a three-minute period where the Cardinals sent a flurry of shots toward first-year goalie Luke Van Galen. The score was then 1-1.
“We knew we had to up our game a lot, so we brought it to them and tried to start as hot as we can,” Coughlan said.
It did not take long for the Red Dragons to answer, and just over seven minutes later, junior Alex Lessman was assisted by sophomore Yasin Choukri in the lead-taking goal. Cortland then led 2-1.
“We came into [the away game] knowing it’d be a lot tougher, but we were ready for it,” Shelvey said.
When it rains, it pours. After only three minutes, Cortland had its third goal. Williams scored on a free kick from 30 yards out, just inside the right post. His second goal of the day put Plattsburgh in a daunting hole. The once-loud Cardinals fan section was now silent facing a 1-3 deficit with 28:26 left in the game.
Plattsburgh stood its ground. Within the next 10 minutes, the Cardinals stopped five Red Dragon shots. Sophomore Teddy Healy was credited with three of the saves. The defensive effort paid off and Plattsburgh was finally set up with a chance of its own.
It was awarded a free kick, which was to be taken by Coughlan. From 19 yards away, Coughlan bent the ball inside the right post for the Cardinals’ second goal. Just like that, there was a game again. Plattsburgh never felt as if it was out of the game, though.
“We did play possession and we were the dominant team,” head coach Chris Taylor said. “They turned it off a bit, and I honestly think [the game] was still 50-50, but our possession got lost a little bit. One of the things we told the guys: [Cortland’s] quality is unbelievable and if you give them moments like we gave them, they’re going to score.”
The Cardinals were back to its usual style of play, allowing just two Red Dragon shots over the last 18 minutes of the game. Plattsburgh put up a few of its own shots, but nothing fell.
With less than a minute left, the Cardinals took possession on the Red Dragons’ side of play. Sophomore John Hayes passed the ball into traffic and to senior Juan Velez. The distance between the goal and Velez didn’t deter him. With 17 seconds left, Velez took his shot and sunk the equalizer.
“I was not [prepared], it was just such a fast play where I just got to the top of the box and all I thought about was just shooting it,” Velez said. “It felt like a little blur but it was all worth it then.”
Velez ran off in celebration, putting his hands together under his head like a pillow. Plattsburgh’s bench and fan section lit up as if it just won the conference.
“Especially in an away game, it brought happiness to the whole team. The supporters were huge,” Velez said.
Healy fell on the ball to drain the clock. As the final seconds ticked off the board, the Cardinals had its biggest win of the season so far, a 3-3 comeback tie.
After a strong start to the season, the Cardinals had to show it could hang with the rest of the conference. By not losing to a nationally-ranked school, Plattsburgh did just that. The come-from-behind win was a result of strong game play. After losing themselves, the Cardinals were able to find its game again and not lose to the Red Dragons.
“I think confidence in the fact that we were playing well [helped us recompose]. I think we were the better team during the game,” Taylor said.
The Cardinals continued its conference play Sept. 21 when it lost to the New Paltz Hawks in a 0-1 heartbreaker. It travels to Geneseo to play the Knights Sept. 24. A strong performance on the road would help to cement its status in the conference and increase its playoff odds. The Cardinals have not made the SUNYAC playoffs since 2019.
“Massive [confidence boost]. Just to show that we’re never done, it doesn’t matter what happens,” Taylor said. “We can now draw on that experience for the rest of the season, no matter the situation, we can always go again. It’s invaluable. We could never replicate that at practice, we could never replicate that from recruiting, you can only do it with moments from the guys. The guys produced amazing moments.”