MT. PLEASANT, S.C. – The College of Charleston men’s soccer team downed East Tennessee State University, 1-0, in the final exhibition match of the preseason. Tanner Clay’s late header provided the friendly’s lone goal in the 85th minute.
After ETSU dictated the opening portion of the match, the Cougars inserted themselves back into the contest and enjoyed a narrow possession advantage for much of the remaining play.
“They were a very good team and a great test for us,” said head coach Ralph Lundy. “We got our rhythm and we got our style and we figured out how we play successfully. The biggest thing we have to work on is that we started the match trying to force the play and it caused turnovers. That put ETSU in the driver seat for the first 15 to 18 minutes. Then we got into our rhythm and started playing the way we’ve been training and the way we know is successful: keeping the ball and playing it around the park with much passing and great ball passing. We knew it – but for some reason we lost that. We got it back and we imprinted it from then on and it was a great match.”
Clay (Gilbert, Ariz.) provided the fireworks for the Cougars with a header on a corner kick in the 85th minute. Freshman Adan Noel (La Brea, Trinidad) sent the ball in with an in-swinging right-footed service from the far-side corner. Clay used his entire 6-3 frame to elevate over the pack and flicked the ball across the goal mouth and into the side netting.
Senior goalkeeper Kees Heemskerk (Zaandam, Netherlands) made five big saves for the Cougars en route to the blank card. His back line of Clay, Tam McGowan (Glasgow, Scotland) and brothers Connor Coons (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Tucker Coons (Alpharetta, Ga.) were well organized and up to the task when called upon as the last line of defense.
“The defenders were organized and they fought and recovered in the emergency, so to speak,” said Lundy. “Many times, especially early, we put our defenders under pressure because we turned the ball over and put their side on the attack. The defenders showed great composure and we kept the ball through the midfield and into the final third.”
The Cougars got off to a shaky start and the Buccaneers nearly capitalized on a corner kick in the early going. They elected to play the ball short which left space Anthony Wojas who ripped a shot from the top corner of the penalty area but was denied by Heemskerk who showed no early jitters.
The Cougars settled into the match around the 15-minute mark and made a quality push forward with Troy Peterson (Federal Way, Wash.) running the ball into the center of the box and leaving it in space for Ike Crook (Federal Way, Wash.) who provided the Cougars’ first shot but was denied by ETSU keeper Ryan Coulter.
That play shifted the momentum and control of the match as the Cougars leveled the playing field and found their play for the rest of the way. The first half ended with an evenly split 6-6 shot count.
The second half flowed evenly from end to end in the second period until shifting into the Cougars’ attacking third late in the match, ultimately leading to Clay’s game winner on the late set piece.
Heemskerk made three acrobatic saves in the second half to keep the Cougars in the match. The closest call came moments after the Cougar goal when the Bucs sent a cross along the end line which sailed over Heemskerk’s head to the far post. Jao Ramalho got a boot to the ball and volleyed it on frame but Heemskerk got back to the post and stifled the effort and cleared it from danger.
The Cougars open the regular season with next weekend’s Nike / Aaron Olitsky Memorial Classic at Patriots Point. The regular season debut will be a banner match against No. 8 Akron, the 2010 NCAA National Champion. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“The intensity of the game will be tremendous,” said Lundy. “We have to be able to play under pressure because they’re certainly going to put it on us. They are a tremendous, excellent team and it will be a great test.
“We have to play great soccer from the first minute. We have to get better between now and next Friday, but we are getting better. We’re already way better than we were last Sunday against Central Florida.”