BY ADAM ROGAN
After a concerning 1-2 start to the season, Drake Men’s Soccer’s win percentage is over .500 for the first time in 2016.
Getting back to a winning record wasn’t an easy endeavor, as the Bulldogs traveled to face the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers on Sept. 9 in a shootout in front of nearly 2,000 UWM fans for the Panthers’ home opener.
“The biggest thing for that is trying to adjust to that atmosphere,” redshirt senior Eric Williams said. “They had a good crowd, they were loud, people were lining the fence. (We were) just trying to stay focused during the game.”
Drake struck first with a goal in the 15th minute by junior forward Steven Enna, set up by a long run by senior James Wypych.
UWM responded quickly, netting two goals in less than 15 minutes to take a 2-1 advantage at halftime.
Although three goals is relatively high scoring for a half, it’s marginal considering the 16 combined shots taken by the teams.
This plays into Drake’s revised defensive strategy, head coach Gareth Smith wants to limit opponents’ chances within the box while allowing shots from far out.
UWM fired off another seven shots in the second half, but none of them found the net.
Drake had four corner kicks in the first 20 minutes after halftime. The first three didn’t lead to any goals. The fourth found its mark.
Wypych took the corner and sent it to the far post. Redshirt-senior defender James Grunert headed it goal-wards to tie the match at two.
A Drake win seemed unlikely, however, when senior defender Andre Heine was sent off in the 74th minute with his second yellow card of the match.
Having shifted from left-back to centre-back this season, Heine has been a little “too eager” in his new role, Smith noted, resulting in some overly aggressive tackling. This was the second time that Heine has received a red card so far in 2016.
“The best teams are tactically flexible,” Smith said. “If you look at the evolution of any program, the guys need to make tactical adjustments during the course of games and from game-to-game.”
A late-game triple-sub, bringing on three experienced attackers — Enna, senior midfielder Mueng Sunday and junior forward Gabe Edel — in the 83rd minute, showed that Smith and his Bulldogs didn’t want to settle for a draw.
The decision paid off within two minutes. A double assist from Grunert and Sunday led to a goal line header for Enna’s second score of the day, his second career multi-goal game.
“It was a massive, massive feather in the cap for our squad character-wise,” Smith said. “Had it gone to overtime, I think the momentum shifts to the team with 11, so we went for it with 10 men in the last 15 minutes.”
The Missouri Valley Conference recognized Enna’s perseverance and timely goal-scoring by naming him Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 12.
“(The comeback) showed our grit and our commitment to putting in work against opposition,” Williams added.
Drake kept the momentum going on Saturday against the University of Missouri – Kansas City Kangaroos. Smith called the win Drake’s “most complete performance” of 2016.
After devoting much of the past two weeks to implementing Smith’s new tactics, it all came together in Kansas City.
“It’s like adjusting your golf swing,” Smith said of the new mentality. “Sometimes it goes out of sync a little bit, but when it comes back it’s better.”
The Bulldogs got out to a lead early with a 16th minute goal when Wypych netted his second shot of the match.
They wouldn’t relinquish the lead as redshirt-senior goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod claimed his 17th career clean sheet, the most of any goalie in program history.
Smith said that MacLeod has been encouraged to get more aggressive defensively, and it seems to be paying off. He has 19 saves through five games, six of them coming against UMKC.
Drake tacked on an insurance goal in the 57th minute on a cross that found junior Mason Leonard. It was his second career goal.
Wypych delivered the assist. He now leads the Bulldogs with three assists and seven points this season.
Drake hosted the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay last night for the home opener. That match began after The Times-Delphic went to print. The Bulldogs open up MVC-play this Saturday at 7 p.m. when they host Loyola University at Cownie Soccer Complex.