Whether or not it was ready, Rudd Field played host to some intriguing preseason matchups for the Elon University men’s soccer team this past Saturday, March 15.
The Southern Conference champions rolled out to face the Wilmington Hammerheads and the Raleigh Amateurs squad. The Hammerheads play in the USL Professional Soccer League, two tiers below the MLS. They missed out on the USL playoffs by one point this past season, and were looking to prepare for their season by playing against some proven NCAA talent in the Phoenix.
Elon head coach Darren Powell fielded a strong squad in the first game, which included juniors Jason Waterman, and Nathan Dean, as well as some returning starters like Myles Mansfield, James Brace, and Cauê Da Silva. The first half saw the Phoenix controlling the ball much more than the Hammerheads. Additionally, Elon won a majority of balls in the air and worked its corner kick strategy by earning five corners in the first half alone.
The Hammerheads came out with more control in the early part of the second half, pressing Elon in its zone. But, after about sixty minutes had elapsed in the game, Elon broke through the pressure and went on the counterattack. It was fast, and in a flash Da Silva had scored from a great pass from Brace.
The lead would only last about 10 minutes, as the Hammerheads caught the Elon defense out of position and scored. After that, the Hammerheads controlled possession for the rest of the game, with Elon only getting one shot on goal in the last 15 minutes of the game. On the final play of the game, the Hammerheads worked the ball into the box for an open shot, but Nathan Dean came up with a huge save to preserve the draw.
After the first match Coach Powell remarked on the state of the team to this point.
“This time of year, we work on our defensive shape and make sure we understand certain systems and our timing,” Powell said.
There were only a few instances where Elon’s defense seemed to lapse, and Powell admired his squad’s commitment to defend throughout the whole match. Powell also said he liked how the team did not back down against the unfamiliar,and difficult competition. One has to think that with entering a new conference next season, lack of fear against new opposition can lead to great things for the team.
After a nice break, Elon took to Rudd Field once more as the Phoenix played an abbreviated 60-minute match against the Raleigh Amateurs. There were actually 12 Phoenix out on the field for this match, as James Carroll, who played for Elon from 2008-2011, returned to Rudd Field to face his alma mater as a Raleigh Amateur. This was a chance for the underclassmen on the squad to get some playing time and show the coaches what they are capable of.
The young guns for the Phoenix were certainly firing in the first half, taking many shots and earning a free kick and a corner kick. Then, about 26 minutes into the game, the Amateurs played a few great passes in the box, and got on the board first. Elon did not its their heads though. With about 15 minutes left in the game, a great Elon cross was not effectively cleared by the Amateurs and freshman Taylor Adler placed an amazing volley into the back of the net. The Phoenix stayed on the attack, pressing the Amateurs for the rest of the game. In the final five minutes, Chad Craig got the ball past the defense and as the keeper came out to great him, he kindly chipped it over his head and in to goal.
The great diversity of opponents this weekend and the way in which Elon dealt with them was definitely a positive sign as the team enters the CAA next season. Additionally, the underclassmen stepped up big in the second game and seized their opportunity, speaking to the depth of the squad, which is often an important factor in NCAA soccer. The Phoenix will look to build on these successes as they get more fit and technical in preparation for next fall.