BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake Men’s Soccer’s postseason chances took a hit on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (5‑10‑1, 2‑5‑1 MVC) took a corner and free kick in the first two-and-a-half minutes of extra time, but couldn’t convert. Getting caught in over-pursuit, Drake allowed a breakaway in the 95th minute and University of Central Arkansas’ (6-7-2, 3-3-1 MVC) Niklas Brodacki beat a charging Drake defender, made a pass around Drake’s backpedaling senior midfielder Mueng Sunday to junior midfielder William Woody who put away a golden goal for the 3-2 win.
“It’s tough,” senior midfielder Mueng Sunday said. “We were pushing for the goal and thought we could get that goal and when you give something up like that it really hurts, but it’s part of the game.”
The match took place on a breezy Saturday night at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines. Had the Bulldogs won the game they would’ve secured a coveted bye in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Now, they will face Bradley University on Nov. 8, the winner of which will still have two matches remaining before the conference championship game.
“We’re going to use that game to bounce back, but we know we can get this done still,” Sunday said. “It will be a tough road … but we can get it done.”
Drake employed a new strategy against the UCA Bears. Its midfield was purposefully less organized than it has been in the past, especially in the match’s opening minutes. Individual players charged Central Arkansas ball handlers — namely upperclassmen James Wypych, Nic Jaimes, Steven Enna and Sunday, some of the mainstay creators and finishers of the Bulldog lineup.
“We did release guys in the final third, hence the chances,” head coach Gareth Smith said. “We felt we could get after them a little bit, so we gave a little freedom to our front three.”
“I thought it was the right move and I definitely agree with it, but … execution is what it comes down to,” Sunday said. “What really sticks out to us is the three goals we gave up. If we keep that at zero then it doesn’t really matter how many you put in the back of the net.”
Both teams came out aggressively. It was a physical match with players on both sides hitting the ground often, sometimes as a result of field conditions and others because of contact, although no cards were issued despite a handful of warnings from the referee and 14 regular time fouls.
Drake did strike first, however.
In the 19th minute, Wypych deked a defender on the left wing and sent a cross into the middle of the box. Enna had already won position and leapt for a header he placed in the lower-right corner of the net.
UCA tied the match nine-and-a-half minutes into the second half when freshman midfielder Harris Partain got behind the Bulldogs defense and put a shot into the upper-90, practically unsavable by Drake goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod.
The Bears struck less than four minutes later. MacLeod made a save, but Brodacki put the rebound into the back of the net before the MacLeod could get back into position. It was Brodacki’s MVC-leading 12th goal of the season.
With just under 18 minutes remaining, Jaimes was led into the box with a through ball, controlled the pass with his chest and blasted a shot on net, only to be saved by UCA goalkeeper Marc Olsen’s diving fingertips.
One minute later, a similar pass gave Jaimes the ball again. He forced two defenders to slip and fall in the box before his shot clipped the inside of the right post and bounced into the net to knot up the match at two.
Even if Drake’s two goals were respectable, they’re minute compared to the team’s 18 shots, 10 of which on goal.
“When you create 18 chances in a game, you should be putting away at least three or four goals,” Smith said. “I think (that result is) a combination of one or two good saves from their goalkeeper and a combination of us not being clinical and clean in our finishing. If you don’t take your chances, then you run the risk of losing games you shouldn’t lose.”
Olsen did play a stellar game in net, making eight saves. He also got some help from his defenders, who made two goal line saves late in the second half to keep the score tied at the end of regulation.
The Bulldogs had one more match before the MVC Tournament, a nonconference competition that began after The Times-Delphic went to print on Nov. 1. Although the game holds no influence over Drake’s postseason seeding, it may still prove crucial to how prepared and motivated the team can be before going to Springfield, Missouri, for the tourney.
“We’ll probably have to freshen up the lineup a little bit to make sure that we keep guys healthy and fresh for conference play,” Smith said.
“We have the talent, we have the relationships,” Jaimes added. “We just need to execute.”