Friday, December 9, 2022

Vasquez fuels men’s soccer’s first conference win

By Collin Bolebruch

In its first conference win of the season, the Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team proved that it can rise to the occasion in the face of adversity.

The Cardinals (5-2-1) visited the Geneseo Knights (6-3) Sept. 24 for its third SUNYAC game this season. Plattsburgh came away with the 2-0 win and a much-needed initial conference victory.

The win came in wake of two big setbacks for the Cards. It lost to the New Paltz Hawks (5-2-2) at home Sept. 21 just four days after a promising tie with the No.17 Cortland Red Dragons (5-3-2). Plattsburgh failed to score a goal in the 0-1 loss.

The game wasn’t its only loss of the day. Sophomore Teddy Healy, the team’s starting goalkeeper, was involved in a collision toward the end of the match. He finished out the game, but later visited the hospital. The incident left Healy with a bruised sternum.

“I couldn’t really think, I couldn’t really breathe or anything. It was definitely a little scary moment after the game,” Healy said.

Healy was ruled out of Saturday’s contest and he did not travel with the team to Geneseo. He also sat out of Wednesday’s Potsdam matchup, but hopes to be back soon.

The injury thrust junior Marcial Vasquez into the starting goalkeeper role. The understudy has been with the team for three years yet has not seen any game action.

“I was kind of certain that I was going to be starting next Saturday, and then the next practice, [Head] Coach [Chris Taylor] came up to me, he said that I was going to be probably up for the next two games,” Vasquez said. “[He said], ‘Try not to make it a big deal, like keep your head and be cool’ and everything, and it turned out well, so that’s really good.”

Healy made sure the position was in good hands. Although he couldn’t physically participate at practice, he made his presence known. Vasquez was ready for the occasion.

“Right before we left for the game, he came up to me and he was like, ‘You know, you’re going to play good. Just play the game and play it how it is,’” Vasquez said. “Him and just everyone on the team had a supportive mentality for me and it was really helping.”

Vasquez was almost immediately tested by Geneseo. Sophomore Knight Stefen Nikolic aimed a shot at the bottom right of Plattsburgh’s goal just over nine minutes into the game. Vasquez blocked the attempt and recorded the first save of his career.

The first half was dry in the way of scoring as neither team was able to put one in the net. Five combined shots were put up before the half. Vasquez saved another shot, this time in the top left.

“[Assistant] Coach Geoff Spear came up to me and he was like, ‘Just imagine it’s just like another practice,’ and I never really looked at it like that,” Vasquez said. “That really changed how I looked at the game. It made me feel more calm, and I guess I’d say play better.”

The second half was another story. The total number of shots more than tripled and each side got its share. Scoring opened almost immediately. Plattsburgh was on the board, less than two minutes into the half. The hero of the Cortland game, senior Juan Velez, set the tone with a quick goal assisted by graduate student Trey Ekert.

“When we score we usually like to keep the foot on the pedal, but it felt like [the goal] gave us a little ease,” Velez said. “You know how tough Geneseo can be.”

Both teams made attempts at the net over the course of the next 30 minutes, though Geneseo outshot Plattsburgh 7-2. Vasquez was credited with two saves 1:30 apart. Plattsburgh’s one-point lead seemed precarious.

Brian Coughlan was determined to seal the game with almost 15 minutes left. He shook a defender, causing the Knight to fall, and raced up the baseline and nailed his third goal of the season, the decider of this match.

“We were struggling a little bit with possession in the first half and the second half. I think [senior] Christian Garner just sent a long ball down and I did a turn, and it was just 1v1 really once I was able to turn the defender,” Coughlan said. “The goal helped us a lot, and I think it gave us a little more energy.”

Vasquez was tasked with holding the lead, and he delivered. Two more saves by the first-time starter sent the Knights back to the locker room and secured the Cardinals’ first conference win.

The Cards met Vasquez with celebration, and Healy made sure to congratulate him.

“When I came back to the locker room, and I got onto my phone, Ted [Healy] had already texted me and he was like, ‘Great game. You played great,’ and all that. It was good to know that everyone was watching even back home, up here at Plattsburgh,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez didn’t win Plattsburgh the game, but he stepped up and filled the team’s biggest hole. The team-effort victory is monumental for the future of the Cardinals’ success in the SUNYAC this season.

Vasquez’s six saves led both teams, as Geneseo was credited with one all game. Plattsburgh recorded nine shots as a squad— its lowest in a win this season. The Cards doubled the Knights’ six fouls with 12, as well as registering the games only yellow card.

“It was a tough game, it was a tight game,” Taylor said. “[Vasquez] was unbelievable. He set the tone with confidence and the team just worked as a unit, the individual defender was really good. He controlled the game with or without the ball. And [Geneseo] had a good team. They were dangerous at times, but we looked like we defended with a lot of composure, and it was really good leadership from a lot of the guys too.”

Plattsburgh currently stands at 1-1-1 in the conference, an improvement on last season’s 0-2-1 start. The Cardinals hope to capitalize on this year’s promising start with more consistent play against SUNYAC teams.

The Cardinals stayed on the road and played the Potsdam Bears (4-2-3) Sept. 28 in a 1-1 tie. Both scores came in the second half. Potsdam junior Anderson Velasquez struck first, for his seventh goal of the year. Velez scored the equalizer with 13 minutes left in the game. The two teams shot a total of 35 times, the most of any Cardinals matchup this year.

Plattsburgh comes back home to face the Brockport Golden Eagles (5-1-4) Oct. 1, its fifth SUNYAC game. Plattsburgh has won the last two matchups between the teams, dating back to 2019. A win on Saturday would be the Cards’ first home conference victory of the season.

“[Staying consistent] is just the basics of hard work, being simple. We say to the guys to show how humble you are, humble people work every single day, they don’t pick and choose,” Taylor said. “[The games] are all as valuable as another one. It’s just about the mentality to work day in and day out.”

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