In the final two men’s soccer matches of the 2011 season, Drexel defeated No. 12 James Madison University by a score of 2-0 and played to a 1-1 draw against No. 16 Old Dominion University.
Even though those two results only raised the Dragons’ disappointing season record to 5-10-3, head coach Doug Hess took the positives out of the team’s strong finish.
“It’s important to know that we can compete with the top of our league and certainly something to build upon for next year,” Hess said.
The first Colonial Athletic Association match of the 2012 season pinned Drexel against ODU Sept. 22, this time ranked No. 11 in the country, and the Dragons tore apart the Monarchs 4-1, at Vidas Field.
Sophomore midfielder Michele Pataia came out and played an inspired match for the Dragons, scoring two of the team’s four goals as he tallied five shots on goal. Pataia opened the scoring in the eighth minute, depositing a shot to the back of the net off a rebound following a corner kick from senior midfielder Brandon Zeller.
“Our defense had a very good game against a team that scores many goals, and our midfield worked very hard,” Pataia, who was named CAA Player of the Week, said. “Therefore, it means a lot to me to be able to score goals and complete my part of the job as successfully as they did.
Junior forward Mark Donohue scored the second goal of the game in the 34th minute after entering the game as a substitute. Donohue deposited the ball into a wide-open goal after he contested ODU goalkeeper Victor Francoz and pressured him into forcing a turnover.
Two minutes into the second half, Pataia scored his second goal of the match. Junior midfielder Nathan Page fed Pataia with a lead pass, which allowed him to beat the defender and launch a shot past Francoz for a 3-0 lead.
In a sense of desperation, the Monarchs made a push in the offensive end, and Drexel senior goalkeeper Tim Washam was up to the task. Washam saved six of seven shots on goal in the match, including a diving denial of ODU senior forward Yannick Smith in the 61st minute.
Sophomore forward Fabio Machado padded the Dragons’ lead in the 72nd minute off a feed from sophomore midfielder Matheus Goncalves. Monarchs sophomore forward Tim Hopkinson was able to spoil Washam’s shutout bid with a goal in the 80th minute, but by the time the final horn sounded, Drexel had posted a dominant 4-1 victory.
“As a team it is a win that gives confidence and that shows that we can beat anybody,” Pataia said. “It is a perfect start in our conference and an important statement to our future opponents.”
Up next on the Dragons’ schedule was a Sept. 26 matchup at Vidas Field against Soccer Six rival University of Pennsylvania. Drexel had not played the Quakers since a 5-0 loss in 2005 and had not won against them since 1990.
Although Penn held an overall record of 2-6, the Quakers had won their previous two matches against Fairleigh Dickinson University and Rider University by a combined score of 10-4.
Early in the match, it became clear that it would be a matchup of Penn’s speed against Drexel’s size. The Quakers were led on the rush by quick sophomore forward Duke Lacroix, but John Boswell, senior defender for the Dragons, was up to the task.
Boswell was able to keep Lacroix and the rest of Penn’s forwards to the outside for most of the match and was responsible for creating the Dragons’ first goal. Boswell took a pass from the middle of the pitch and moved down the left side before feeding junior midfielder Nathan Page in front for a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.
“Bos is certainly our most athletic back and is the only senior playing right now on our back line,” Hess said. “He kept the game simple for himself and did a good job of dealing with the pace of the front two from Penn.”
But just three minutes later, senior midfielder Travis Cantrell found a soft spot in the Drexel defense and launched what Hess called a “wonder goal” from 30 yards out to the top right corner of the net to knot the score at 1-1.
Starting in his seventh consecutive match, Washam made three consecutive saves in the next five minutes, including a dive to his left at full extension, to keep the score tied going into halftime.
The match remained tied as play became more of a back-and-forth game in the second half. Washam made three more saves on Lacroix, including a breakaway attempt in the 50th minute and a leaping save in the 75th minute on a shot right under the crossbar by Penn junior forward Stephen Baker.
Washam’s heroics gave Drexel junior midfielder Ken Tribbett the opportunity to be the late-game hero once again. The 6-foot-2-inch Tribbett used his height advantage and stellar anticipation to win possession throughout the match against the speedy Quaker forwards.
“Speed is a killer in the game of soccer. We want to keep the ball, connect passes and play simple,” Tribbett said. “Tonight the surface was slick, and we had trouble breaking them down.”
In the 85th minute, Tribbett received a pass from Zeller and found himself alone with the goalkeeper behind the Penn defense. He kept his calm and deposited a ground-ball shot to the left side of the goal. As the ball hit the back of the net, Tribbett sprinted in front of the Drexel grandstand and let loose a primal scream as he tugged at his uniform.
“It is all about composure,” Tribbett said. “If you stay calm toward the end of the game, you find yourself in the right position and will be able to finish.”
The win improved the Dragons to a 5-2-1 overall record as they continue CAA play Sept. 28 in Williamsburg, Va. against The College of William & Mary. Drexel has lost four consecutive matches against the Tribe since a 1-0 victory in 2007.
But the team looks to reverse its poor trend of history against W&M just as it did with Penn and ODU, against whom the Dragons had a 1-8-3 record going into their CAA opener last Saturday.
“History told us we haven’t been good against William & Mary, history told us we haven’t been good against ODU, and history told us we haven’t been good against Penn,” Hess said. “The guys on this team want to help change our history.”