FARMINGTON, Conn. - Freshman Mergim Kutllovci (Thomaston, Conn.) recorded a hat trick in his first collegiate contest to power the University of Saint Joseph men's soccer team past the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Trailblazers, 5-2, in the Blue Jays season opener on Friday evening on Kiki's Field at Miss Porter's School. Kutllovci's third and final goal off a perfectly executed free kick in the 68th minute would serve as the game-winner for USJ.
Kutllovci wasted little time making a name for himself in a USJ uniform. The freshman midfielder from Thomaston was all over the pitch wreaking havoc on the MCLA Trailblazers for 90 minutes and powerd the Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory. It marks back-to-back seasons the Blue Jays have scored five goals in their season opener, both victories over MCLA, in their first two years as a program.
After a dangerous start to the match where MCLA nearly scored in the opening minute, the Blue Jays settled in and began to take control of the possession. That would lead to Kutllovci's first goal of the game in the 10th minute. The rookie got the Blue Jays out to an early 1-0 lead after he drove up the left side of the field and into the top corner of the penalty area. He found some space and fired a curling shot on net which soared over MCLA's freshman goalkeeper Sam Edge (Williamstown, Mass.) and into the back of the net.
Kutllovci wasn't even close to done though, scoring early and often, as he would find the back of the net again just six minutes later. Freshman midfielder Michael Torres (Hartford, Conn.) dribbled up the right side near midfield and saw the speedy Kutllovci take off for a run upfield. Torres sent a beautiful arching long ball that hit Kutllovci in stride. He settled and slipped a shot past the charging Edge and just like that the Blue Jays held a 2-0 advantage just 15:08 into the match.
The Blue Jays held all of the momentum and continued to press MCLA. Saint Joseph nearly made it 3-0 just over a minute later when a scrum in the box occurred following a USJ corner. Sophomore Domeniko Skrelja (Ulcinj, Montenegro) had the first crack at it, but his shot was block. Off the block, freshman Anthony Delacruz (East Hartford, Conn.) took a swing, but Edge was able to pop the attempt into the air back at Delacruz who followed with a header that caromed off the crossbar and MCLA escaped unscathed.
The Trailblazers used that to flip the script and started creating chances for themselves. They would eventually be successful and trimed the USJ lead to 2-1 just before halftime. Earlier in the half, MCLA subbed in senior Ryan Wanek (South Salem, N.Y.), who exclusively would take all of the Trailblazers' throw-ins, especially in their offensive end. In the 40th minute, that exact scenario came up once again, and Wanek hurled a long throw-in into the penalty area. It found junior Andrew Nygard (Gansevoort, N.Y.) who flicked a pass towards the far post and junior Colin Rousseau (Cheshire, Mass.) was there waiting unmarked to finish past USJ's diving senior goalkeeper Joseph Boland (Rhinebeck, N.Y.).
Despite the late first-half goal, the Blue Jays came out of the break strong. They took the second-half kickoff and drove down the field and created an immediate scoring chance. However, once again they were unable to capitalize, and MCLA turned around and would score to even the match, 2-2, in the 62nd minute. Senior Garrett Derosia (Berlin, N.Y.) fed freshman David Jamina (Lowell, Mass.) who finished in the bottom left corner past USJ's freshman keeper John Griffin (Southington, Conn.), who came on to make his debut for the final 45 minutes.
The match would not be tied for long though, and Kutllovci came to the rescue in the 68th minute. MCLA committed a foul down the left side of the field, just outside the penalty area about 25-yards from goal, and Kutllovci made the Trailblazers pay. He lined up the free kick and curled a perfect shot around the MCLA wall toward the far post. Edge never had a chance as the ball was placed too precisely in the bottom right corner of the net and the rookie found himself with a hat trick in his first collegiate match. The hat trick is also the first in USJ men's soccer program history.
It was all Blue Jays from there on out. Kutllovci's goal would serve as the game-winner and USJ wasted little time tacking on an insurance goal. In the 71st minute, freshman Joseph Colaccino (Southington, Conn.) took a throw-in near the Blue Jays' offensive zone and found junior Gaetano LaBella (Wethersfield, Conn.) who bodied a pass to sophomore Hayden Burbank (Southington, Conn.). The left-footed midfielder gathered and ripped a shot into the right corner of the goal to push USJ's lead to 4-2.
The Blue Jays locked in defensively and contained any MCLA chances for the remainder of regulation. With the clock winding down under 10 seconds, the Trailblazers committed a foul inside the penalty area resulting in a penalty kick. USJ's returning leading goal scorer, sophomore Daniel Castro (Willimantic, Conn.), stepped up to take the PK. Edge denied Castro's initial attempt, but the rebound bounced right back to Castro who was able to finish easily and account for the 5-2 final margin.
Griffin (1-0-0) picked up the victory between the pipes for the Blue Jays in his first collegiate action in goal and finished with one save in 45 minutes of time. Edge (0-1-0) was dealt the loss for MCLA and made seven saves playing the full 90 minutes. USJ dominated in total shots, 19-7, shots on goal, 13-3, and corner kicks, 10-4.
USJ has a week hiatus until they return back to the pitch next on Saturday, September 7 on the road at Medgar Evers. Kick-off is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. between the Blue Jays and Cougars.