Contrary to generalized thinking, shutouts in the game of soccer should not be attributed to stagnancy and lack of action. They reflect defensive stability, an aggressive attitude with superior goalkeeping, and ultimately, dominance.
Through five matches in Colonial Athletic Association play, the Drexel men’s soccer team has posted three shutouts, all by senior goalkeeper Tim Washam, and has vaulted to the top of the conference standings with a 4-1 record.
This past week, the Dragons faced off against the University of North Carolina Wilmington and George Mason University, and they were able to tally two victories and two clean sheets in the process.
The match against UNCW was scheduled for a 4 p.m. start, a rare afternoon game at Vidas Field. Before the main event, Drexel held its annual Alumni Day, where former men’s soccer players played a scrimmage and honored Frank Gastner.
Gastner, who died Sept. 28 at the age of 81, was the founding father of the Alumni Game and would boast of his status as the oldest player year after year. With heavy hearts and a moment of silence before the match, the Dragons took the pitch against the Seahawks.
In the first half, Drexel came out composed, looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2-1 loss against Northeastern University Oct. 3. Both teams were able to possess the ball, but the Dragons primarily controlled the attack while forcing UNCW toward the outside.
“A big theme in the bounceback was, ‘Can we get back to playing aggressive soccer?’” head coach Doug Hess said. “Can we get back to being aggressive in nature and in mind rather than tentative? Because that didn’t work for us in our last game.”
The first real scoring chance was by Dragon sophomore midfielder John Grosh. In the 31st minute, sophomore forward Fabio Machado fed Grosh for a wide-open goal, but the score was nullified due to an offside call by the nearside linesman.
The game remained scoreless through halftime, with Washam and UNCW junior goalkeeper Brad Newman producing clean sheets through the first 45 minutes of play. Coming out of the locker room, however, the Dragons had to withstand an initial push from the Seahawks.
“They’re a team that wasn’t gonna go away; that’s all we talked about in the locker room at halftime,” Hess said. “We had to keep playing and play to put them away.”
Just three minutes into the second half, Washam made a save on UNCW senior forward Thomas Driver and then watched the Dragons’ defense block three attempted shots on goal in front of him.
Then came a huge break off the foot of Seahawk sophomore midfielder Jamie Dell. In the 58th minute, Dell curled into the middle from the left side of the box and let loose a curler destined for the far side of the net. Instead, the ball hit the inside of the post and bounced into the middle of the box, where Washam was able to clear it out of danger.
“It should have hit the inside post and caromed in, but it was crazy,” Hess said. “When that ball stayed out, I looked at our assistants and said, ‘Maybe it’s our day.’”
Drexel midfielder Michele Pataia came in as a substitute in the 62nd minute, and the 5-foot-7-inch sophomore from St. Germain, France, dramatically tilted the momentum toward the UNCW defensive end.
Five minutes later, Pataia received a pass from senior defender Skylar Olson at the top of the box but whiffed on the kick as he popped it straight in the air. Fortunately for the Dragons, it went right to Newman, who knocked it away instead of gaining control of the loose ball.
The rebound floated to junior midfielder Ken Tribbett, who, as usual, positioned himself in the right place at the right time. Tribbett met the volley with his right foot and sent a screamer through the defense and into the bottom-right corner of the goal to put Drexel up 1-0 in the 67th minute.
“It was superb technique to keep the ball low through traffic from 20-25 yards, from the angle and off the volley,” Hess said. “That was a bit of a wonder goal, and that’s something that he’s learned.”
Pataia continued his surge for the Dragons’ front line, as he sent a shot just a few feet over the crossbar three minutes later. The Drexel defense continued to stymie the Seahawks’ attack, and on a quick counter, Pataia rushed into the offensive end.
Pataia’s initial shot hit the post and came right out to junior midfielder Nathan Page, who had one shot blocked in a scramble in the box but then finished a second opportunity into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead in the 78th minute that would ultimately be the final score.
“Michele’s another guy, like Kenny, who has really good technique,” Hess said. “He’s starting to find good spaces on the field, and we need that from our front players.”
The next match on the schedule had the Dragons travel to Fairfax, Va., to face GMU Oct. 10. Although the Patriots came into the match with just a 1-2 mark in the CAA, they held an 8-3 record overall, outscoring their opponents 25-13 in the process.
“Every game matters [because] it’s conference play at this point,” Hess said. “So we kind of have to pack up the circus, take it on the road and keep the momentum going.”
Throughout the match, Drexel’s defense put a halt to the GMU attack, holding their conference foe to zero shots through the first 84 minutes of play. Although the Patriots ended up with just two shots on goal, the Dragons did not do much better.
The match remained scoreless through 90 minutes, as Drexel was only able to produce three shots on goal, and Patriot senior goalkeeper Dustin Butcher was up to the task on each occasion. The second-half clock expired with the teams in a scoreless tie, and the Dragons were on their way to their third overtime affair of the season.
Five minutes into the first overtime period, Page had an opportunity in front of the GMU net that was blocked, but he remained aggressive, got the rebound and put it behind Butcher for the golden goal and a 1-0 victory in the 95th minute.
Coming into the match, the Patriots held a 6-2 home record and had not been shut out; the Dragons went on the road and changed that. With a stellar showing by the Drexel defense and Washam’s fifth shutout of the season, the team improved its road record to 4-2-1, its best mark since a 5-2-1 mark in 2007.
“As I said after the [University of Pennsylvania] game, ‘It’s great, enjoy it,’” Hess said. “But there’s another one on the horizon, and you’re only gonna be as good as your next result.”
Drexel will travel to Towson University Oct. 13 to take on the Tigers for an 11 a.m. start. The Dragons will look to extend their five-game win streak against the Tigers, who they beat last year by a score of 2-0 on goals by Tribbett and then-sophomore Mark Donohue.