Entering the 20th minute, the 800 fans that packed into the Rudd Field bleachers to watch the Elon University men’s soccer team face the Drexel University Dragons in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament semifinal were hungry for some excitement.
Less than a minute later, they erupted in uproar when redshirt junior midfielder Marco Vesterholm sent a cross to junior midfielder Ben Rosenblatt, who then skyed above two defenders and positioned a header into the top left corner of the net.
“I told Marco when he gets the ball to switch it to the other side, and he did just that,” Rosenblatt said. “I didn’t think I was going to get there, but I just jumped in front of them and guided it towards the net and watched it go in.”
Rosenblatt's goal would be the only of the match, and with the 1-0 win, Elon is headed back to the CAA Tournament final for the second straight season. Rosenblatt said this season was expected by him and his teammates.
“It was an expectation for us because of how hard we do off the field and how hard we have worked,” Rosenblatt said. “I think we have a lot more that we can accomplish other than just next Saturday.”
The Phoenix will face Hofstra University in a rematch of last year's tournament final. The Phoenix fell 3-2 against the Pride in last year’s match at Hofstra, but this year, Elon will host the final. Rosenblatt said the home field advantage makes a huge difference.
“Sleeping in a hotel and trying to fill time isn’t always easy,” Rosenblatt said. “The importance of staying in our routine for the whole week and getting to train on our own field is such a huge reward and something we deserve.”
Although both sides saw a plethora of other scoring opportunities throughout – including two goals that were called back because of offsides infractions, as well as a few that rattled off the posts –- the Phoenix was able to outlast the Dragons. Head coach Marc Reeves said the team has to capitalize offensively in order to stay composed on the defensive side of things
“We need to show more composure and quality on the attacking side when we are under pressure,” Reeves said. “If it’s 2-0, we are not as panicky in the end.”
With another phenomenal defensive performance from graduate senior goalkeeper Ryan Bilichuk and the entire Phoenix back line, Elon posted its 11th shutout, the most by any team in program history. Bilichuk said the defense that surrounds him is the main reason the team has had success this year.
“Those guys are awesome, and that backline is the reason we have the shutouts,” Bilichuk said. “It’s a special feeling to be behind them and have those guys in front of you.”
However, the score only tells half the story, as the battle between Elon and Drexel was anything but slow and lethargic. Instead, Rudd was the site of a physical, fast-paced affair, featuring six yellow cards, one red card and a total of 23 fouls. The red card, however, was a big one, as it was assessed to Vesterholm with mere minutes left in the match. The infraction prohibits Vesterholm from participating in the championship match next week.
Regardless, the Phoenix looks to cap off the season in style on Nov. 12 at noon with its first ever CAA Tournament title, which would come with an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Reeves said the team believes it can go further than just a CAA Tournament final victory.
“We’re going after a championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. That’s what this group is focused on,” Reeves said. “Winning the regular season is great, but we want to be in the NCAA tournament.”
When it comes to how Reeves feels about advancing, he said he is not satisfied just yet.
“I’ll let you know next Saturday,” Reeves said.