The SVSU men’s soccer team advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division II playoffs after winning a first-round thriller over GLIAC foe Ashland and a second-round game over host Southern Indiana.
In the opening round against familiar foe and No. 6-seed Ashland, who won the GLIAC Tournament to qualify for the NCAAs, the first half was a goal fest, with the two teams combining for five goals in the first 45 minutes.
After trading possessions in the opening minutes, Saginaw Valley scored out of nowhere on a cross from sophomore mid elder Alex Gloshen that sophomore forward Michael Hamilton tapped in from just a few yards out, catching the Eagles completely off guard and putting SVSU up 1-0.
“We designed a game plan strategically around the weaknesses that Ashland have, which there are not many, but that also played to our strengths,” head coach Andy Wagstaff said. “The players did a fantastic job of accepting that plan.”
SVSU continued to dominate possession, as the rst half progressed and put a lot of pressure on the Ashland backline.
The Cardinal offensive pressure mounted even further in between the 15th and 19th minutes, but a transition goal from the Eagles knotted the game at one goal apiece. Ashland’s Justin Libertowski found goal and made the score 1-1 early in the first half.
SVSU’s offensive domination has left them susceptible to transition goals throughout the year.
“They were transition moments, but we decided to allow the game to be somewhat transitional to allow us to get more attacking opportunities,” Wagstaff said.
Later in the half, following an SVSU turnover, Ashland began to press the ball down the field.
However, SVSU was able to steal the ball, and a cross in toward the goalie box led to a shot by junior mid fielder Pablo Ortiz that deflected off the goalkeeper and found the foot of Hamilton, who netted his second goal in the match’s first 25 minutes, making the score 2-1 in favor of SVSU.
Minutes later, SVSU got an easy goal from Gloshen, who broke free of the Ashland defenders on a pass from Alberto Teatin and tapped the ball in past Ashland keeper Dimitrios Karousos to give the Cardinals a commanding 3-1 lead.
However, just before halftime, Ashland got itself right back in the game on a cross from George Brown to 6’4” Kieran Paterson, who netted the opening half’s fifth goal and brought the Eagles back within one.
At the half, SVSU was outshooting the Eagles 10-6.
Ashland pressured the Cardinal defense, as the physical second half progressed. The Eagles had several good chances, including a would-be tying goal that was called offside with about 19 minutes left in the half.
Just as SVSU appeared to be fending off Ashland for good, a defensive mistake led to an Eagle goal, as a long kick from the Ashland keeper turned into a defensive lapse for SVSU, and Ashland got the equalizing goal it needed. That completed the comeback and tied the game at 3-3 with under eight minutes to play. Again, Libertowski netted the goal for AU.
As regulation was ending, it looked like Ashland may have had the winner, as AU had multiple players in front of the SVSU net, but Paterson’s shot sailed over the net, ending the threat.
Senior mid elder Michael Shaikly almost had the winner for SVSU with two minutes left, but the shot went high and out of bounds and the match headed to overtime, the 10th such game for the Cardinals this season.
Less than one minute into overtime, SVSU got the golden goal winner it needed, as Gloshen scored an unassisted goal on a congested play inside the AU goalie box.
As the ball found the back of the net, the Cardinal bench stormed the field in celebration, as SVSU moved on to the second round of the playoffs.
Against No. 2-seeded Southern Indiana (ranked No. 15 in the country) in the second round, the underdog Cardinals (ranked No. 22) jumped out to a 2-0 rst half lead.
Just as it has in nearly every match its played this season, SVSU began the game pressing the ball forward and holding lots of possession on just 36 hours of rest compared to nearly two weeks for USI.
Beginning in the 16th minute, SVSU rattled off four shots before finally being rewarded with a goal in the 29th minute, when junior forward Azaad Liadi dribbled into the goalie box, beat the keeper and scored his ninth goal of the season, putting the Cardinals up 1-0 on the host Screaming Eagles.
After maintaining pressure and possession, SVSU snagged a second goal before half, as Hamilton found Liam Travers, who found the back of the net after a scramble in the box to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead heading into half.
At the half, SVSU was dominating possession and outshooting the Screaming Eagles 10-1.
Early in the second half, USI, desperate to save their season, pressured the Cardinals on their half of the field.
The game began to get chippy, and USI had a handful of chances to get back within one of the Cardinals, but the SVSU defense held strong.
With about 15 minutes to play, USI finally got the goal it had been pressing for all half when Colten Walsh scored on a header in the box, making it 2-1 SVSU.
“(At halftime) we just told the team to prepare to face another aerial attack, which is what USI did, and not to panic,” Wagstaff said. “We told them to brave the storm and try to take the sting out of the game, but instead, we just faced long ball and long throw over and over again. We defended those balls very well, and although they managed to score, we still dealt with that very well.”
As USI continued to attack, SVSU’s defense held strong.
Late in the match, the Cardinals got the game-clinching goal they needed when Liadi found Ortiz one-on-one with the USI keeper. Ortiz softly tapped the ball past USI keeper Justin Faas and gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead with under eight minutes to play.
With just over two minutes left, Shaikly added an insurance goal on a breakaway that effectively ended the match and USI’s season, making the score 4-1.
“Even though they kept pressuring, we always looked good in transition and nally got the third, then fourth, goals to close out the game,” Wagstaff said.
As emotions and tempers continued to are, the match came to an end, and SVSU moved on to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2014.
“We’re a great program,” Ortiz said. “We can beat anyone; we showed it against the defending national champion earlier in the season, but we can also have a poor day against anyone. So, chest up and humble minds from here on out.”
The Cardinals continue their postseason journey in the Sweet 16 next weekend as they travel to Hays, Kansas, to take on the winner of the Tiffin vs. Ohio Valley second round game, which was still in progress when The Valley Vanguard went to press.