In collegiate sports, conference games are generally more important than those of the out-of-conference variety. This surely rings true for the Drexel men’s soccer team, which is now 3-0-1 in Colonial Athletic Association play and 4-6-1 when playing teams outside of the conference.
For the middle two matches in a four-match road trip, the Dragons traveled Oct. 19 to the University of Delaware and Oct. 22 to the University of Maryland in hopes of snagging six points from two outstanding opponents. But after defeating the Blue Hens by a score of 2-1, Drexel suffered a 1-0 loss to the No. 12 Terrapins in College Park, Md.
In the showdown against bitter rival Delaware, the Blue Hens came out firing, but it was the Dragons who drew first blood. Drexel freshman goalkeeper Tyler Afflerbach faced three shots on goal from freshman forward Guillermo Delgado in the first six minutes of the match and turned away all three.
Junior midfielder Michele Pataia notched his first score of the season for the Dragons on a breakaway opportunity sprung by senior defender Skylar Olson in the 19th minute. Following the 1-0 lead, Drexel looked to tack on another goal before halftime, but Delaware junior goalkeeper Borja Barbero made three saves in the next 10 minutes to keep his team’s deficit at one.
Twenty-three minutes into the second half, Pataia fed a breakaway to senior midfielder Nathan Page, who finished the opportunity.
The Englishman’s fourth score gave Drexel a 2-0 lead, but just two minutes later, the Blue Hens struck back. Delgado scored his CAA-leading 11th goal of the season to bring Delaware within one with just over 20 minutes remaining.
The Dragons held on to that lead, surviving one more opportunity from Delgado with one minute left to secure the 2-1 win and stay undefeated in conference play. In conjunction with Northeastern University’s 1-0 loss to The College of William & Mary, Drexel was all alone in first place on the conference.
The Dragons then visited No. 12 Maryland to play their last out-of-conference match of the season. In their previous three matches, the dangerous Terrapins had tallied 11 total goals but went 1-1-1 while giving up seven goals of their own.
Oddly enough, the first half ended in a scoreless tie. Drexel captain Tal Bublil made a glorious move to keep Maryland from scoring when he headed a ball off the goal line that seemed destined for the back of the net. Maryland freshman midfielder Michael Sauers beat the keeper but was denied by Bublil in the 29th minute.
Even though the Terrapins outshot the Dragons 9-2 in the half, the one that Bublil stopped was the only one that went on goal. It was much of the same as the teams came out of their locker rooms, with Maryland attempting seven second-half shots to Drexel’s one.
It was the 16th and final shot that ultimately did the Dragons in. Terrapins senior forward Sunny Jane finished a cross from senior forward Patrick Mullins in the 77th minute to give his team a 1-0 lead for good. Pataia had the lone shot on goal for Drexel, but it was turned aside by Maryland freshman goalkeeper Zach Steffen.
With the loss, the Dragons missed out on their last opportunity to secure a major win that might have propelled them into the conversation for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, Drexel can build upon its 3-0-1 conference record, which currently leads the Colonial Athletic Association, and hope to repeat as regular-season champions. If the Dragons were to repeat, they would once again host the CAA Tournament in addition to having another banner fly at Vidas Field.
The Dragons will round out their road trip with a match Oct. 26 at James Madison University. The Dukes currently sit in last place in the CAA with a conference record of 0-4, following a 6-2-2 campaign last season.
Then, Drexel will return home for the annual Senior Night, this time against Hofstra University. It was the Pride who ended the Dragons’ bid for a CAA Tournament title at Vidas Field last year in devastating fashion: a loss on penalty kicks.
At this point in the season, the Dragons have to put their struggles against out-of-conference opponents aside and focus on the task ahead. Sitting at the top of the CAA standings with three conference matches remaining, the Dragons now control their own destiny toward a regular-season championship.