After an opening weekend with many missed opportunities, Elon University men’s soccer freshman forward Tuki Tayali felt frustration setting in.
Tayali missed his first three shots wide Friday night against St. Bonaventure University, giving him 10 shots — and three on target — without a goal to start the season.
But in the 76th minute, Tayali got a rolling pass from junior forward Elijah Agu on the left corner of the six-yard box. Tayali faced away from the goal and backed down a defender, drifting toward the middle as a second defender came to the ball.
Then, Tayali took a light touch with his right foot and hit the ball toward goal, split the defenders and blasted a goal off the bottom of the crossbar from four yards out.
And, with the goal, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward said he felt “relieved” he finally scored.
“It was a great feeling,” Tayali said. “Obviously, I had missed a few, but I tried to keep my head up, and my teammates kept creating chances for me. I’m happy I put one away.”
Tayali’s size will give the Phoenix a completely different look up front than they’ve ever had in head coach Chris Little’s time at Elon, something that excites Little.
“He’s a big guy. He has a big body,” Little said. “If you look at the four strikers we’ve been rotating through, they’ve all scored goals, they’ve all provided assists and they all have their own skill set.
“If you’re a defender, when you have to play against one guy, and then a different guy comes on with a different skill set, it’s difficult. That’s what we look to do, and we hope they can keep complementing each other and pushing each other to get better.”
Agu has been Elon’s best forward this season, scoring five goals and getting the assist on Tayali’s goal. The physicality that Tayali used to score is something Agu says he has often seen in practices, and he sees how he can benefit from him.
“It’s a great attribute to have, and especially working with him as a forward, it’s great to be able to make runs off him,” Agu said. “You know when the ball goes in to him — he’s going to hold it, no matter who is there. It’s amazing to see how strong he actually is.”
If anyone at Elon would know how strong Tayali actually is, it would be freshman defender Luke Matthews. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Matthews isn’t small himself, but Tayali’s size advantage is tough to handle.
“He’s definitely a big guy. He’s strong, and he can roll you. All of our strikers have got their own attributes and they’re all very good. It improves us as defenders to train against them every day, and I’m happy they’re on our team and not against us.”
Tayali also said that defenders like Matthews and junior defender Jonathan Coleby are good to practice against because “they’re the same size as me, so I have to be smarter and think quicker and move my feet quicker.”
Tayali said he liked Elon because it is a small university with a good community, especially within the soccer community.
“It’s on the up, and they play great football,” Tayali said. “Chris and [assistant coach Brad] Franks were very enthusiastic about the program, and that came across well. It made me excited to join the team.”
And the coaching staff really likes him, too. Little said he’s happy that Tayali plays for the team, hoping to lift up all of the strikers and not just himself. Tayali agrees, and after he scored one goal, he’s still on the hunt for the next.
“I’m never satisfied with just one goal,” Tayali said. “I’m always striving for more goals. All of the strikers keep pushing each other, and hopefully I get more.”
And, for Matthews, he’s happy to sit back on the other side of the field and let Tayali do his thing.
“I’m just happy at the other end watching him do it and that he’s not doing it to me,” Matthews said.