Everything has to come to an end eventually.
For the Drexel University men’s soccer team, the ending was as one-sided as it was crushing.
The game against the University of Delaware Oct. 29 was a must-win for the Dragons, a team that’s limped through conference play en route to a measly four points in the conference. To have any chance at making the postseason, the Dragons had to win out, and the first step in doing so was taking down a short-handed Delaware team.
When asked about how his team has ended up in this situation, coach Doug Hess keyed in on a single phase of the game.
“Scoring goals. The final ball. It’s either the final pass or the final strike at goal. The thing with scoring goals, you train movements to create chances. We spend a lot of time in training, training movements of the team and individual players and from there it’s about the individual quality on the final strike,” he said.
Hess felt confident about the Dragons’ chances in the first of their two must-win games, citing the fact that Delaware was missing a litany of key players coming into the game including a main piece of their offense, sophomore Guillermo Delgado. Delgado has 11 goals this season, and missed the match due to a red card in Delaware’s previous contest against the College of Charleston.
As it turned out, Delaware didn’t need Delgado and their offense functioned as well as ever at Vidas Field against the desperate Dragons.
The Dragons managed to keep the Blue Hens at bay for a significant portion of the first half, but in the 35th minute, the game — and the season — fell apart for the home team.
In a 16-second stretch, the Dragons watched as everything they’ve built for the last three months crumbled in front of them, as Delaware netted two goals.
For this Dragons team, needing to score two goals is a virtual death sentence. In the entire season, they’ve only scored two or more goals four times out of 17 games.
And that uphill battle got even worse for the team before halftime, as an Angus Maloney goal in the 42nd minute basically sealed the victory for the Blue Hens.
From there, the game played out like most games have for the Dragons this season. They got their chances, but were ultimately unable to capitalize, as they were held scoreless in the contest.
With an additional basically meaningless goal in the second half, Delaware pulled out to a four goal lead and held their ground, winning 4-0 when the buzzer mercifully sounded 35 minutes later.
And with that, a dominant force in Colonial Athletic Association play falls. The Dragons had made the NCAA tournament for two consecutive years coming into this one and looked poised to repeat that.
That is, until games started actually counting.
Before the start of conference play, the defensive side of the ball seemed particularly strong for the Dragons, as they held opponents to one or less goals in eight of their first 10 games.
If the Dragons could have just kept that together, with all of the chances their offense was generating, they were bound to find their rhythm and start scoring goals at some point in the season.
But sometimes sports don’t work the way anyone expects them to. The Dragons probably should have been able to put it together and win some games, but they weren’t.
They continued to struggle to score goals. The defense began to crumble. They just couldn’t get the results.
Even with their struggles, the Dragons had the chance to pull back into the top six of the conference, a mark that would have allowed them to reach the postseason, a level where they’ve thrived over the years. They were only a game out before this game and with a little bit of help from some CAA competition, could have snuck their way into the playoffs this season.
But that wasn’t how it happened. And a great run for the Drexel program is possibly over, but that doesn’t mean things are all bad.
For right now, it’s time to celebrate the nine seniors and look forward to watching the rest of this team grow in the next couple of seasons.
Incredibly, there are no juniors on the team. Besides the seniors, only freshmen and sophomores make up the rest of the squad and that’s an exciting prospect.
With that much youth comes inexperience, yes, but it also means that this team will grow together for the next two years and likely be a force when they come into their own.
And that’s truly something to look forward to.
The Dragons end their season against the University of North Carolina at Wilmington at Vidas Field Nov. 4 at 4 p.m.