It was supposed to be a festive occasion.
The Elon University men’s soccer team was making its debut in the Colonial Athletic Conference, at home, in front of a boisterous home crowd. The Phoenix was hoping to usher in a new era in the program with a decisive victory that would cement its place as one of the conference’s elite teams.
Instead, Hofstra University disrupted Elon’s preferred narrative by scoring a goal in each half and escaping Rudd Field with a 2-0 victory on Saturday, Oct. 4.
“We want to win the league. Losing our first home game in the Colonial is a setback,” Elon head coach Chris Little said. “We’re not happy about it. We created a lot of chances and there are a lot of things I think we did well. But, at the end of the day, it’s a loss.”
It was just as disappointing for the Phoenix players, who were hoping to make a statement to the rest of the league. Instead, all they had was deflation and demoralization.
“You hope to have that big start and get the ball rolling, especially with a home game,” senior goalkeeper Nathan Dean said. “But it’s something we need to bounce back from. If we want to look at it any way, we can look at is as a challenge. It gives us even more determination to get back because we’re down.”
Elon’s stout defense, which has been the team’s heart and soul this season, left its back line exposed several times throughout the night, allowing the Pride’s attackers to exploit and attack those areas and mount dangerous attacks around the box.
Hofstra’s first goal, though, was not the result of the assault of the box. Instead, Maid Memic score his goal in the 11th minute on a bullet from more than 15 yards out that deflected off the left post and into the net.
It was, Dean said, a once-in-a-season type strike that Memic was fortunate to jar. In fact, Dean didn’t move on the shot because he didn’t think there was any chance that such a normally ill-advised strike would find the back of the net.
Hofstra added an insurance goal in the 53rd minute when midfielder Joseph Holland cut diagonally through the Elon midfield before laying it off at the top of the box to a streaking Danny Elliott in the left side of the box. Elliott tucked the ball past Dean and into the right corner of the goal to put the Pride up 2-0.
None was bigger, though, than Pray’s denial of Phoenix junior forward James Brace on his penalty kick with 21 minutes left in the game.
Brace sent a low, hard bullet to Pray’s right, but he guessed right, and was able to stop the ball, though it trickled away and right to the foot of the charging Brace, who was once again denied at point-blank range by Pray.
In the game’s waning minutes, with the Phoenix in desperate need of a goal, senior forward Jason Waterman controlled a ball at the top of the box, spun and sent a low bullet to Pray’s right.
But, once again, Pray dived to his right and made a spectacular save, deflecting the ball wide right.
“We just couldn’t get it past him,” Brace said. “It was just one of those nights. It happens. That’s soccer. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in.”
With the loss, the Phoenix falls to 4-4-2 overall, and 0-1 in the CAA, while the Pride improve to 5-3-2 overall, and 1-0 in conference play.
The Phoenix will hit the road for a conference matchup against the College of William and Mary on Wednesday, Oct. 8. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.