WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's soccer team struck first, but a pair of unanswered goals by the Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) Lions propelled them to victory, 2-1, in a non-conference match on the USJ Soccer Field Wednesday afternoon. The loss snaps a three-game win streak for the Blue Jays and drops them to 5-2-0 on the season, while the victory for the Lions is their seventh straight to improve to 7-1-0. The triumph also marked the 200th career win for ENC's fourth-year head coach Mark Bell and his 20th with the Lions.
The first good scoring chance came from Eastern Nazarene in the 17th minute. Following a foul by USJ down the right wing, senior Sunil Lepcha (Charlotte, N.C.) ripped a free kick with his left foot that sailed just over the crossbar and out of harms way.
The Blue Jays answered the early push by the Lions right away though, and would strike right back and take an early lead, 1-0, at the 17:13 mark off the foot of freshman Michael Torres (Hartford, Conn.). Sophomore Daniel Castro (Willimantic, Conn.) collected a pass and drove deep into the right corner in Lions' territory. He faked an initial cross to deke an ENC defender and push closer toward the net, then slipped a low cross that made it all the way across the box to a wide open Torres unmarked at the far post. Torres was calm, cool, and collected and easily finished past ENC's sophomore keeper Tyler Ferreira (Berkley, Mass.) to give USJ the 1-0 advantage. It marked the first career goal by Torres.
USJ's lead would be short-lived however, as the Lions responded almost immediately with a goal to even the match, 1-1, in the 19th minute. The Blue Jays attempted to clear an ENC cross into the penalty area, but the clearance attempt was sent out to the feet of Lepcha who was all alone about 40-yards from frame. He took a touch and then fired a missle toward the net that would beat USJ's freshman keeper John Griffin (Southington, Conn.) into the lower left corner of the goal.
The intensity and physicallity was there from the get-go, but increased as play continued to pick up with both teams settling into the match. USJ and ENC would trade possesion relatively equally with each team looking to strike next and take the lead.
That strike would come from Eastern Nazarene who capitalized on a fortunate break. Following a collision that sent a player from each squad temporarily to the sideline, ENC's junior forward Sidney Cardoso (Brockton, Mass.) was able to slip behind USJ's defensive line after being called on by the referee to provide what would ultimately be the game-winning goal. Ferreira, the Lions' goalkeeper, coralled a cross into the box by the Blue Jays and hurled a long pass to midfield which was headed and then flicked forward. Cardoso, who had just been called on, ran with a full head of steam down the right wing and was able to out-race USJ's defender for the ball. He took a couple of touches, fended off the USJ defender, and snuck a shot past Griffin near post in the 34th minute.
The second half featured opportunites by both squads to score, but neither team could find the back of the net for the 2-1 final margin. USJ really picked up the intensity over the final 10 minutes looking for the equalizer, but just couldn't break through. With 11 seconds remaining in the match, the Blue Jays nearly pulled off the unthinkable. Sophomore defender Matt Lombardo (West Hartford, Conn.) pushed forward and found himself with the ball and a scoring chance, but his shot went over the crossbar and the Lions escaped with the victory.
It was a very evenly played match throughout with USJ holding a slight edge in shots, 10-9, and shots on goal, 6-4. The Blue Jays also won the corner kick battle, 5-1.
Griffin was dealt his first loss of the year for USJ between the pipes and falls to 3-1-0. He finished with two saves in 45 minutes of action, splitting the game with senior keeper Joseph Boland (Rhinebeck, N.Y.) who came on in relief and was untested in the second half. Ferreira earned the win in goal for ENC to improve to 5-1-0 on the year and posted five saves.
The USJ men's soccer team returns back home to the USJ Soccer Field for a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) match on Saturday versus Colby-Sawyer College. Kick-off between the Blue Jays and Chargers is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in the nightcap of a doubleheader with the women's soccer team.