The Elon University men’s soccer team beat the Radford University Highlanders 1-0 in a tightly contested non-conference game at Rudd Field Wednesday Sept. 25. If that score sounds familiar, it’s because the Phoenix have made a habit of winning tight games this season.
The Phoenix is 4-1 in one goal games this season, a streak that has been built on timely goals and stout defensive performances.
The Phoenix defense is conceding less than a goal a game, and has posted three shutouts this season. In order to keep winning close games, Phoenix head coach Darren Powell knows his team must continue this trend.
“We always feel like if you keep the other team at zero, you have a good chance to win the match,” Powell said. “It’s very important. Defensively, we take pride in keeping that zero.”
The game against the Highlanders was no different. The Phoenix got off to a quick start behind senior midfielder Matt Wescoe, who had the first look at goal in the 16th minute from just outside the box.
Wescoe took a pass, turned to his right to shed his defender and fired a rocket — while falling down — that redshirt senior goalkeeper Dane Wilson had to save while diving to his left.
The Phoenix would find the back of the net three minutes later on midfielder James Brace’s fourth goal of the season.
LAST TIME OUT: William & Mary hands Elon first loss
Senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz sent a cross in from the left side toward the back post, which redshirt senior midfilder Mark Berlin was able to head back towards the center of the box where Brace was waiting. He controlled the ball and slid it past Wilson from point-blank range to score the game’s lone goal.
“It was a good cross from Danny and Mark did excellent to get it back across (the face of goal),” Brace said. “I made a move around the defender and found myself one-on-one with the keeper and was able to slot it past him.”
The Phoenix then bunkered down in their own end, occasionally going on the counterattack to try and score a second goal to put the game away. They didn’t find the back of the net again, but were able to maintain their defensive intensity behind junior goalkeeper Nathan Dean, who added two spectacular saves against the Highlanders to his growing highlight reel of game-saving plays.
“Nathan is intelligent enough to know that when he’s called upon he needs to make saves,” Powell said. “Everyone’s got a lot of confidence in Nathan. A goalkeeper has to make big saves in those key moments and Nathan did that again tonight.”
The Highlanders, like all teams down a goal at the end of the game, pushed all their players forward in hopes of finding the equalizer. But the Phoenix defense was able to do just enough to hold the Highlanders off.
“We know Radford is a very good team, and if they’re 1-0 down with ten minutes to play, you know they’re going to be pressing us hard,” Powell said. “I thought we dealt with it well tonight. We have to be pretty proud of our collective effort in the latter fazes of the game.”
The win allowed the Phoenix to finish its four game homestand at 3-1, with an overtime loss to the College of William & Mary as its only blemish in that period. In Dean’s eyes, the loss to the Tribe makes their win over Radford that much more important going forward.
“We can’t be too negative about (losing to William & Mary) because they’re going to be up there at the end,” Dean said. “But we were really close with them the whole game so we have to take some confidence from that. But, getting back on that winning trail was vital. That was the most important thing - moving forward after that loss.”
The Phoenix will next play High Point University Saturday night, Sept. 28 on the road before concluding their brief, in-state road trip with a game at Campbell University Oct. 1. It’s the High Point game, though, that has Powell’s attention at the moment.
“Our focus needs to be on Saturday night at High Point,” Powell said. “Bottom line for us is High Point is a big game now and we need to prepare our bodies physically and prepare ourselves tactically to have a good showing on Saturday evening.”