The Elon University men’s soccer team took care of business Friday night with an impressive 3-0 victory against in-state rivals High Point University. In head coach Marc Reeves’ first season, his team is off to a flying start. The Phoenix has jumped out to an early 3-0-1 record while scoring six unanswered goals over its first four outings.
Friday evening’s matchup between the Elon Phoenix and High Point Panthers got off to a scrappy start, with the sides committing a combined eighteen fouls in the first half. Junior midfielder Amir Berkane reflected on both the physical play and mentality his teammates took into the match.
“We knew it was going to be a scrappy game because High Point is that kind of team,” Berkane said. “We knew we had to fight for the right to play.”
Despite the overwhelming physicality of the match, the Phoenix was able to take hold of the game after the first few minutes by dominating possession and creating a handful of scoring opportunities. The first solid chance came in the seventh minute when a cross from the left flank found the head of sophomore forward Tuki Tayali, who was unmarked inside the penalty area, but his headed effort drifted wide of the High Point goal.
The Phoenix kept its foot on the accelerator for much of the first period and found the opening goal just before halftime. In the 42nd minute, a brilliant run by redshirt-sophomore defender Hassan Pinto allowed him to smash the ball across the face of goal and find the feet of junior forward Jaiden Fortune who was fouled inside the 18-yard box by a High Point defender, leading to a spot-kick for the home side. Berkane stepped up for the Phoenix and sent the High Point keeper diving the wrong way as he coolly placed his penalty into the right corner of the net, giving his team a 1-0 advantage heading into the half. When Berkane was asked about the goal, he was quick to credit his teammates and note the effect it had on the match.
“Great work from Hassan down the right side,” Berkane said. “[The goal] opened up the game and created a lot of chances for us — gave us the momentum to carry on.”
As the second period progressed, the visitors began to sacrifice defenders in an effort to find a goal of their own and level the score. In the 75th minute, the High Point defense switched off for a split second and allowed Fortune to poke home a cross from sophomore defender Luke Matthews, effectively doubling Elon’s lead.
Just as the Phoenix seemed destined for a comfortable 2-0 victory, a lightning-quick counter attack from the leading bunch ended with senior striker Elijah Agu smashing his shot into the roof of the goal and increasing his side’s lead to 3-0, courtesy of a cross from Fortune. This proved to be the final goal of the evening, and brought Elon’s goal difference up to +6 after just four matches. Reeves was a huge fan of his team’s attitude and ability to finish off its opponent.
“What I like is that our attitudes and daily training habits have been strong,” Reeves said. “I like the way we took our chances late. We really punished the team for getting tired or exposed a little bit at the end there and turned it into what should have been a convincing 3-0 win, not 1-0 just sneaking out of here.”
After four matches, the Phoenix has scored six and conceded none — an impressive feat due largely to the performance of the team’s defense and goalkeeping. Redshirt-junior goalkeeper Matthew Jegier praised his defense’s performance thus far while urging the team, as a whole, to continue fighting as the season progresses.
“We’ve always had one of the best [back lines] in the CAA, which is great for a keeper,” Jegier said. “Nothing is going to be handed to us — we’re going to have to go out, fight and grind for every game.”
In Reeves’ debut season at the helm of Elon men’s soccer, he seems set to bring out the best in his players and lead the program back to the NCAA tournament.
“I have huge respect for the previous coaches Darren Powell and Chris Little. They’ve created a really great program and we’re excited to take it over,” Reeves said. “The main thing we try to teach is good character, good training habits, being a good teammate and preparing to gain an edge in everything you do.”
This shutout win improves Elon’s record to 3-0-1 on the year, and the players and coaches alike will be hoping the team can continue this impressive run of form. The Phoenix returns to action on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. when the team will travel to take on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in its first away contest of the season.