Villanova men’s soccer secured a 1-0 victory over Xavier, extending its undefeated run of play in the Big East conference. The lone goal of the match came in the 15th minute, as sophomore Akinjide Awujo slotted a ball past the Xavier keeper. It is the Wildcats’ third 1-0 victory in the first three games of conference play, and their fifth win in six games.
Both teams started out the first half by testing the waters and trading attacking blows for the first 10 minutes, none of which were particularly dangerous.
It remained very tentative until the 15th minute, when Awujo received a long ball from sophomore midfielder Dominic Cyriacks and carefully tucked the ball to the right of Xavier’s keeper. The goal was Awujo’s first of the season.
Villanova head coach Tom Carlin said Tuesday that transition from defense to offense was going to be a major point of emphasis in training leading up to the match against Xavier, and it paid off for the ‘Cats.
“We have to be better in transition, that's number one,” Carlin said. “On the other end, we’ve got to be a little bit more productive with our possessions. What we build from our goalkeeper, when we build from our midfield.”
Villanova was able to use its midfield to generate chances, as well as create sharp counter-attacks after weathering the Musketeers’ storms.
After the Awujo score, Xavier attempted to respond quickly with a goal of its own, but a dangerous chance for a Musketeers forward in the 17th minute went just wide of the near post.
In the 20th minute, it looked as though the ‘Cats were about to have a second off the foot of junior midfielder Gray Ricca, but he was challenged and dispossessed by a Musketeers defender inside the 18-yard box. The challenge was not without contact, but play went on without a penalty call.
In the 25th minute, Ricca had possession again in a dangerous area, but was dispossessed, this time fairly cleanly.
Junior forward Lyam MacKinnon fired a shot off of a ‘Cats free kick in the 35th, but it sailed far north of the crossbar.
After that chance, Xavier began to dominate the run of play, generating multiple chances in quick succession. Possibly the most dangerous chance of the night for the Musketeers came in the 42nd minute, as a misplayed ball back to senior keeper Carson Williams led to an opportunity for Xavier, as Williams was far off his line. A Xavier forward tried to take advantage of the defensive miscommunication, but Williams was able to make a stellar deflection to keep the advantage for the Wildcats.
Williams resumed his duties as the ‘Cats starting keeper after a one game suspension for a red card received against Penn State. The red card prevented him from taking his position between the sticks against Butler last weekend, and understudy senior keeper Kent Dickey kept a clean sheet in Williams’ absence.
After the halftime break, the ‘Cats settled into their defensive shape and clamped down on the Musketeers’ offense. Junior defender Anthony Cousins Jr., junior midfielder Viktor Benediktsson and junior midfielder Josh Belluz led the defensive unit as they fought against a flurry of Xavier attacks.
"Viktor and Jack did a great job of winning the balls in the air," Carlin said to Villanova Athletics. "Carson came off his line a number of times to knock the ball away. I thought Josh Belluz was really disruptive too with his length and skill."
The defensive efforts of the Wildcats were necessary, as Xavier stayed on the front foot for a majority of the second half of play. Williams came up with a couple more saves, and the Wildcats held on for their seventh win of the campaign.
The Wildcats travel to Connecticut on Wednesday to take on UConn, before returning home Saturday afternoon to face St John’s. All four of the Huskies’ wins have taken place at home, while the Red Storm are one of the four undefeated teams in Big East play, joining Villanova, Providence and Georgetown.