STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
After tying their first exhibition game with Northwestern University and defeating the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the second, the Bulldogs were primed to head into the regular season with confidence.
However, the boost from the high-quality preseason may have been dampened by Friday’s news.
It was announced that Sean Holmes, the now-former head coach of the Drake Men’s Soccer team, would no longer be coaching the Bulldogs.
“It was really sad for him to leave us,” senior Alec Bartlett said. “We were told that it was an administrative decision.”
Holmes was about to start his 18th season of coaching at Drake when his tenure came to an end on August 28. Drake Athletics announced the change in a press release that came out a little more than two hours before kickoff.
The reasoning behind the termination is still unclear. The Des Moines Register reported on August 28 that Holmes said he had been fired, but this has not been confirmed or denied by Drake Athletics.
Assistant coach Gareth Smith will be stepping up to fill the void on an interim basis. He has been part of the Bulldogs coaching staff for the past six years.
A native Scotsman, Smith is certified as a fitness and conditioning coach. Before coming to Drake he played for Motherwell Football Club in the United Kingdom as a youth and was part of the Glasgow Regional Select Team for three straight years. Smith is also part of the U.S. U-14 National Team Program.
Regardless of the changes to their coaching staff, the team appeared unfazed as they took to the field with tenacity in the season opener on August 28 at Cownie Soccer Complex against the University of the Pacific Tigers.
Drake managed to fire off 11 shots in the first half, compared to the Tigers’ four, but neither team was able to score in the first 45 minutes.
The scoring seal was broken at about the same time that the skies broke open, unleashing a brief rainstorm to accompany the beginning of the second half.
Pacific’s Gaku Lange managed to make it behind the Bulldogs’ defensive line in the 54th minute amidst the falling rain. Lange beat Drake goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod in the box and put the Tigers up 1-0.
Their lead didn’t last long. Forward Gabe Edel put a shot on goal for Drake 15 minutes later, which was blocked by Pacific goalkeeper Curtis Goldsmith. When Goldsmith was unable to grab hold of the ball, sophomore Alex Prussa took advantage and put the rebound in the back of the net for his first goal as a Bulldog.
Junior James Wypch had a chance on goal in the 81st minute, but was fouled in the box before having a chance to shoot. Bartlett took the penalty kick for Drake, slipping it past the goalie’s outstretched arm to give his team a 2-1 lead, a lead that would hold until the end of the game.
“I feel good,” Bartlett said. “It showed resilience (being able) to come back from being down one-nothing.”
Two days later, the Bulldogs hit the road to face off with the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) Phoenix.
Both Drake and UWGB played near-flawless defense for the final 88 minutes of the contest, but a mistake in the 2nd minute would prove to be decisive.
MacLeod was called for a foul after a collision with a Green Bay attacker inside his own goalie box. A penalty kick was granted, and junior Audi Jepson capitalized to give his Phoenix an early 1-0 lead.
“The performance against Green Bay was good, it was just a tough game,” MacLeod said. “That’s just how soccer is. Some days it goes in and some days it doesn’t.”
The Bulldogs were able to get plenty of opportunities to tie the game back up with 15 total shots, eight of which were on goal, but none were able to find their way past the keeper. The loss brought their record down to 1-1 on the season.
This weekend the Bulldogs will travel to Evansville, Indiana for the Aces classic, playing two matches against Belmont University and the Air Force Academy.