By Chris Mackowiak
The Salisbury University men’s soccer team has been plagued by injuries throughout the season. Finally, on Saturday, the whole roster was back in action and healthy with the return of senior forward Leslie Umunna.
With a new sense of confidence, Salisbury (6-6-1, 3-3) took down their rivals, the Frostburg State Bobcats (6-8-1, 2-3-1), 3-0 in front of a large crowd on the Sea Gulls’ senior day.
The match started out as an intense conflict with back-and-forth play driving the length of the field on either end. The physicality demonstrated by both the Sea Gulls and Frostburg State dictated play for the majority of the afternoon as four yellow card cautions were handed out.
Salisbury’s offensive pressure was the difference early on by forcing many interceptions and breakaways in Frostburg’s half of the field.
The first goal of the match came on a transition play 24 minutes in by senior forward Kendrick Michel. Freshman midfielder Dolph Hegewisch sent a long ball up the left side of the field which found the feet of Michel. Michel showcased his speed to leave himself open on goal.
Frostburg St. senior goalkeeper Hassan Mostafa was vulnerable off his line at the time. Michel used the opportunity to send a chip up and over Mostafa into the back of the net. The Salisbury forward immediately rushed over to his family on Senior Day to celebrate the opening goal.
“It just felt so good coming out for everybody. People coming from back home watching me. You have your team right behind you, coaches too. Every day at practice, I would just come out early to work on shooting,” Michel said after finishing the day with two goals.
The other major chance for Salisbury in the first half came a few minutes later from Hegewisch on a powerful shot at the top of the box. The bending ball went to the far post and deflected off the top of the cross-bar.
The Sea Gulls’ defense did not need to worry about much in the first half, holding the Bobcats to only three shots and no corner kicks. A few set piece chances were available on free kicks for the Bobcats, but to no avail. The compact play of Salisbury forced Frostburg to move through the wings where they were unable to penetrate the box.
“The zero [goals allowed] up there is definitely the most important thing to us,” senior goalkeeper Robert Fiackos said. Fiackos tallied three saves on the way to his team’s second-straight shutout.
After halftime, the physical play had not let up between the two teams. Salisbury seemed to sit back more defensively in order to try and continue their shutout streak and grab the three points at home.
Most of the Sea Gull offense in the second half came on the transition play, mainly featuring the speed of Michel and the return of the big man Umunna from his broken hand.
“Frostburg left themselves exposed by trying to push numbers forward throughout the match, and we were effective in using our pace and athleticism to get in behind and gain some pretty good scoring chances,” SU head coach Alex Hargrove said.
Multiple times it was evident that chemistry formed between the offensive playmakers in practice. Hegewisch, along with senior midfielder Brad Martinelli and freshman midfielder Ryan Spadin were all in on the action deep downfield.
In the 53-minute mark, the pressure got to Frostburg’s defense when Umunna was brought down by a double-team in the box on a Salisbury transition attack. Head referee Bill Dittmar awarded the Sea Gulls a penalty kick, their second of the season.
After leaving the match briefly with an injury, junior left back Nick Carrington converted the attempt with a powerful shot past Mostafa into the left side of the net.
To cap off the win, Michel had another breakaway in the 82-minute mark on a pass from senior center back Nate Eiben. Despite pressure from two defenders, Michel scored a sharp-angled shot into the right side of the goal.
“Today [Michel] went out there with a different confidence, a different mindset to find the back of the net twice,” Hargrove said.
Despite much possession in the second half, the Salisbury defense held Frostburg St. to only nine shots total in the match. The Bobcats possess a 5-1 record this season when they total 12 or more shots in a game. Their leading scorer Josh McRobie was held to only two shots in this game.
“[The back line] does a really great job in giving me space to work. They blocked more shots than I could count today. The ones that got through were easy to deal with,” Fiackos said.
The 2-0 win against Marymount on Wednesday snapped a four-match losing streak for the Sea Gulls, their longest one since at least 1998. Now with the wins in hand, the team seems to be turning a corner.
This win was the second match of a three-game home stand. Salisbury has a two-game win streak going into their Wednesday afternoon match with conference-leading rival Christopher Newport. Salisbury moves up to nine points in the Capital Athletic Conference standings, seven back of the Captains.
“We’re on a team that hasn’t had a worse performance all season. We get a little bit better with each match, and we look forward to build on that against CNU on Wednesday,” Hargrove said.