By Zach Gilleland
Despite a late comeback effort, the Salisbury University men’s soccer team was unable to build on its two-game winning streak, falling to Christopher Newport (CNU) 2-1 in a close game Wednesday.
The SU Soccer Complex saw the Capital Athletic Conference’s (CAC) first-ranked Captains offense take on the first-ranked Sea Gull defense.
After shutting out Marymount (Va.) and Frostburg State in the last two games, the Salisbury (6-7-1, 3-4) defense faced its greatest challenge this season in stopping the high scoring Captain offense. Christopher Newport (13-2-1, 6-0-1) came into today’s matchup averaging three goals-per-game.
In a physical matchup that saw 20 fouls, the referees seemed content on letting both teams play, as only one yellow card was handed out during the game.
The Captains’ offense found an early advantage over the Sea Gulls’ defense, maintaining possession for the majority of the first half and creating many scoring opportunities.
In the 16-minute mark, a long pass from senior midfielder Jimmy Grace found sophomore forward Stephen Durbin. Durbin then chipped the ball past Salisbury senior goalkeeper Robert Fiackos for his conference-best tenth goal of the season and CNU’s first goal of the game.
The Captains found the back of the net once more in the first half, with Grace scoring 28 minutes in to give CNU a two-goal lead. The Captains fired nine shots in the first half.
“Lack of communication across our back line was an issue in terms of both goals,” Salisbury head coach Alex Hargrove said. “We were letting guys walk into the box without pressuring them and you cannot do that against [Christopher Newport].”
Keeping the Sea Gulls in the game defensively was Fiackos. Fighting through an injury sustained earlier in the matchup, Fiackos provided six saves.
Salisbury was unable to find anything offensively in the first half. Senior midfielder Leslie Umunna gave the Sea Gulls their best opportunity to score, but an errant pass and an off-balance shot led to an easy save by CNU. Salisbury’s offense only mustered two shots in the first half.
“I think we just came out a little flat,” junior back Nick Carrington said. “We had a hard week in practice, it was hot out and we just were not ready for them. Give [CNU] credit. they were ready to go, they were strong, they overloaded us a couple of times and just got the better of us twice.”
In contrast to the first half, the Sea Gulls came out ready to play in the second half. Salisbury looked like a brand new team, attacking the box and pressuring the Captain defense.
“We came out slow and we did not come out ready to compete [in the first half],” Hargrove said. “[At] halftime the mentality changed and that was all we needed to get going on the offensive side.”
At 76 minutes in, a beautiful pass from senior midfielder Nathaniel Hand found junior forward Brooks Zentgraf. Zentgraf shot low and left, beating CNU sophomore goalkeeper Zach Pedini to give Salisbury a much needed goal.
Unfortunately, the Sea Gulls were not able to get another late goal.
The opportunities were there, but Salisbury just could not finish. The Sea Gulls fired nine shots in the second half, but only one found the back of the net.
Salisbury had one final opportunity late in the game. A CNU defender knocked the ball out of bounds, giving the Sea Gulls one last corner to tie the game.
But the game clock expired and the referee blew his whistle, ending the game and causing confusion among those at the SU Soccer Complex.
A big blow for Salisbury was the loss of freshman midfielder Dolph Hegewisch. Hegewisch, who leads the team with six goals, came up limping late in the second half and did not return to the game. Hargrove said that the freshman should return for Salisbury’s next matchup.
With a loss today, the Sea Gulls find themselves ranked seventh in the CAC. Salisbury will have its work cut out for them, as only the CAC’s top six teams make the conference tournament.
As they enter their final two matches of the season, the Sea Gulls look to right the ship Saturday as they travel to take on York College in an important CAC matchup.
“It’s a must-win game on Saturday for us to make sure we end up in the conference tournament,” Hargrove said. “We are looking to put the 11 guys on the field that are going to give us the best opportunity to win the match both mentally, technically and tactically.”