STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake has been a clear leader in the Missouri Valley Conference throughout the early season, winning six of their first eight matches. The Bulldogs extended their win streak to three on Saturday and started the conference season at 1-0.
“I think any time we can help these young guys perform close to their potential, as they’re doing right now, is always pleasing to see,” head coach Gareth Smith said. “Any coaches in any program should be in it for the student-athletes and to see those guys close to their potential, operating at optimum performance is always positive for any coach to see. The blessing in it is that they’re not only are they performing well but they’re also getting results and when you get those two then you’re in a good place.”
The Bulldogs traveled to Evansville, Indiana on Saturday looking to exact their revenge for a 1-4 loss last season at the hands of the Purple Aces at home in Des Moines.
Sophomore Steven Enna, who scored his first two goals of the season and earned Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the first time this season, led the Bulldogs to victory.
Junior Mueng Sunday picked up two assists on the day andnow leads the team with fourassists on the season, all four of which have come in the lastthree games.
“It’s a weight off the chest, starting to get a couple goals,” Enna said. “It feels good.”
After forcing a turnover in the 10th minute, Enna had a one-on-one opportunity with the goalie. He didn’t hesitate, taking a shot from 18-yards out to put Drake up 1-0.
The Purple Aces responded with the equalizer 17 minutes later on a cross, allowing Mark Gonzalez to score his team-leading third goal of the season.
With just seconds left in the first half, Drake was able to make one final attempt on goal. Sophomore Gabe Edel took control of the ball near midfield and made a long pass down the sideline, finding Sunday in the attacking third.
Sunday sent a cross towards the far post, finding redshirt sophomore Alex Prusa for the header goal to give Drake the lead heading into halftime.
“It’s nice being able to get involved, but to be able to get some assists you have to have the right people being in the right place and being ready for the ball,” Sunday said.
The Bulldogs would cushion their lead seven minutes into the second half when Enna scored his second goal of the match, again off of an assist from Sunday.
The Drake backline played lockdown defense for the rest of the match. Evansville only managed one shot on goal in the second half.
“I don’t think we need to recreate the wheel with what we’ve been doing to this point to be successful,” Smith said. “As long as we continue to do those things that we’ve been doing well and make some minoradjustments depending on who we play.”
Not only has the Drake defense been tough to score on all season, but the offense has been explosive in the past two weeks, outscoring opponents 10-3 in their last three matches.
“I feel like we’re just all clicking right now, (scoring) a lot of goals and making things happen on the field,” Sunday said.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod has played every minute in the net for the Bulldogs this season and has made 31 saves thus far, contributing to a 6-2 record to go along with a pair of shutouts.
Next week will prove to be a challenge for the Bulldogs. They will face off with the Missouri State Bears.
The Bears and the Bulldogs are, as of Sept. 29, the only two teams in the MVC with a winning record overall and a win in their first conference game.
Although Missouri State’s defense has been strong all season — only giving up six goals in seven games, its offensive production has been lacking.
The Bears have scored just six goals all season and have three scoreless draws.
“They’re a very difficult team to break down,” Smith said. “They tend to have a very solid defensive structure, a very solid cornerstone of their program. We have to find the balance between attacking … (and) not leaving ourselves exposed on the counter.”
The Bears faced off with the no. 1 Creighton Blue Jays on Tuesday, a team that was 9-0 entering their match.
The match finished after the Times-Delphic went to print.