Men's Soccer Splits Weekend Games, Takes Down Yale

Villanova soccer competed twice over the Labor Day holiday weekend, dropping a 1-0 decision on a late penalty kick to Albany on Friday, before defeating Yale 2-1 Monday afternoon. Monday’s win was momentous for the Wildcats, as Yale is the reigning Ivy League champion, appeared in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, and received votes in the United Soccer Coaches Preseason Top 25.

Friday’s match was one of frustration for the Wildcats, who failed to score despite dominating possession for much of the match. Albany failed to record a shot in the first half and only mustered eight on the day, yet senior midfielder Haflidi Sigurdarson converted a penalty with seventeen minutes remaining, and it proved to be enough for a 1-0 win for Albany.

Villanova had all the chances in the first half, outshooting the Great Danes 9-0, and had two great chances to score. Junior forward Lyam MacKinnon hit the crossbar with a shot in the 20th minute, and later in the half junior midfielder Viktor Benediktsson headed past Albany goalkeeper Carlos Tofern, only for the shot to be cleared off the line. Tofern made six saves on the day.

The second half was more even, as the Wildcats took 10 shots to Albany’s eight. However, one mistake made all the difference, as junior midfielder Josh Belluz fouled an Albany player during a scramble after a corner kick. Sigurdarson converted the penalty, and the Great Danes held on to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

The Wildcats took 19 shots on the day, with nine corners. All five shots taken by the ‘Cats after conceding failed to test Tofern, and Villanova was determined to find higher quality opportunities in their next matchup.

On Monday, Villanova took on Yale, winning 2-1 in front of a packed Higgins Soccer Complex. Fans lined the outside of the entrance waiting to get in well before the highly anticipated matchup began, as well as into the first few minutes of the game. Not a single seat remained in the stands, and fans crowded along the fences outside the field as well.

The Wildcats pressured the Yale defense right away. In the 18th minute, freshman forward Balthi Saunders pounced on a Bulldog mistake, finding MacKinnon 40 yards from goal. Despite the distance, MacKinnon saw Yale keeper Elian Haddock off his line and fired over the junior, giving the Wildcats the early lead.

However, the lead did not last long. A foul was called on redshirt senior keeper Carson Williams in the 23rd minute, setting up a penalty kick for Yale. Williams dove the right way but junior forward Paolo Carroll’s shot was too strong, knotting the score at 1-1. 

There were many chances in the remaining minutes of the half, but neither team could find the back of the net again. The Wildcats had two corners and forced Haddock into four saves, but when the horn sounded for halftime the teams were locked at one.

Both teams turned up the intensity in the second half, resulting in four fouls in the first ten minutes after the break. Yale kept the ball for the opening of the second half, but Villanova capitalized on a Yale mistake and junior midfielder Marcus Brenes forced Haddock into a tough save on a breakaway. Yale regained momentum after an offsides call on the Wildcats and a yellow card on Villanova head coach Tom Carlin, and two shots from the Bulldogs narrowly missed the goal.

By the 65th minute, the Wildcats grabbed control of the game. Yale junior center back Jeremy Haddock and sophomore midfielder Kai Moos received yellow cards, and the Wildcats began peppering the Yale goal. Villanova quickly created two chances, both ending in shots by MacKinnon, with the second forcing Haddock into a save. 

In the 72nd minute, the Wildcats found the breakthrough. Junior midfielder Gray Ricca found MacKinnon near the Yale box, who threaded the needle between numerous Yale defenders to find freshman forward Balthi Saunders. Saunders wrapped his right foot around the ball and inside the far post for his first collegiate goal, giving Villanova a 2-1 lead with 19 minutes to go. 

However, the reigning Ivy League champs would not go away. Yale controlled possession for the rest of the game, but tired legs for the Bulldogs meant that Villanova had several chances to put the game away on counters. MacKinnon and sophomore forward Akinjide Awujo forced Haddock into saves, but it was Yale who had the final chance with a cross from freshman left back TJ Presthus. However, Williams was able to claim the cross, securing the win for the ‘Cats. Williams had two saves on the day, while Yale’s Haddock made eight saves. MacKinnon was the catalyst for Villanova’s attack, with 10 shots, six on target, a goal, and the assist on the game winner.

Next for Villanova is its first road game of the year, making the short trip to north Philadelphia to take on Temple. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.