The Drexel men’s soccer team’s last home match of the season usually bids farewell to a wave of seniors who will play their last 90 minutes in front of the home fans. This season, however, with only one graduating senior, the matchup on Nov. 1 focused on the Dragons against the No. 12 James Madison Dukes.
James Madison (12-3-1, 8-2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) came into the match having won 10 out of their last 11 and already clinched the top seed in the upcoming CAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Drexel (5-10-2, 4-5-1 CAA) needed wins in its final two matches — and some help from other teams — to have any chance of qualifying for the tournament by earning a top-six seed in the conference.
The first half of the match produced a scoreless tie as each team amassed two shots on goal, stopped by the respective goalkeepers — sophomore Pentti Pussinen of Drexel and senior Justin Epperson of James Madison.
The Dragons struck first during a scramble in front of the Dukes’ net when Epperson missed an opportunity to clear the ball. Sophomore defender Tal Bublil was all alone to head it in for a 1-0 Drexel lead in the 60th minute.
It was Bublil’s second career goal, both in the last three games and both being game-winning goals. Team captain Bublil is best known for being a stable part of the defensive structure.
“Our defense has really stepped it up as of late,” sophomore midfielder Kenneth Tribbett explained. “That is largely due to the constant communication from our captain, Tal Bublil, organizing players ahead of him and making us a better team.”
With 30 minutes to go, there was still a lot of soccer to be played. Some very tense moments ensued. James Madison senior forward Patrick Innes struck the crossbar with a laser shot with five minutes remaining.
The Drexel team defense came up huge to preserve the one-goal lead. Bublil and Tribbett prevented scoring chances in the defensive end by knocking away two golden scoring opportunities for the Dukes.
“When we defend as a team and get pressure to the ball immediately, that is where we will be most successful,” junior defender Ben Miller said. “It gives us better opportunities to score and get some positive results.”
With just over two minutes remaining in the match, Drexel junior midfielder Malcolm LeBourne beat the keeper and fed a pass to sophomore midfielder Manuel Cazares, who finished without conflict and added an insurance goal.
By defeating James Madison, the Dragons keep their conference tournament hopes alive as they wrap up the season in Norfolk, Va. Nov. 4 against No. 16 Old Dominion. Drexel needs a win against the Monarchs and some help from its fellow CAA members in order to sneak into postseason play.
“We are going to have to play the way we want and not get away from our game plan,” Miller said. “It is easy to talk about stuff in a scouting report or see it in film, but on the field is where you have to practice what you preach.”
Drexel has lost three straight decisions against the Monarchs dating back to 2007, when it tied Old Dominion by a score of 0-0. With the entire season on the line, expect the Dragons to leave it all on the field this Friday.