Men’s soccer surges to top of the WCC
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | THE USD VISTA | @mroberson22
On Sept. 27, the University of San Diego men’s soccer team suffered a 4-0 loss to the Santa Barbara Gauchos in front of over 2,000 enemy fans. The loss to UCSB was the second game in a row in which the Toreros were shut out, and it dropped their overall record to 4-4-2. While conference play had yet to begin, the team found its season hanging in the balance.
After getting dominated in their last non-conference game, the team had 12 days to prepare for their West Coast Conference opener. It was during this time period that the players and coaches came together and vowed to save what was starting to look like a disastrous season.
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Thomas Olsen knew that something had to change if his team was going to have any sort of success over the rest of their rigorous schedule.
“I think we all felt we under performed at UCSB,” Olsen said. “No one thinks we are four goals worse than they are, and I think it was kind of a wake up call. There was no real pep talk or anything after the loss. We just hate to lose and think that has been driving us forward.”
The first game of the WCC schedule came on a Saturday night at Torero Stadium. The Loyola Marymount University Lions headed south to clash with the Toreros.
By the end of the night the fans in attendance were reminded why USD has been so successful during the 37 year run of head coach Seamus McFadden.
Perhaps playing with extra motivation after the shaky start to the season and the embarrassing defeat in Santa Barbara, the boys came out with intensity and were able to net two goals in the first 16 minutes of the game.
The first score of the night came in the game’s sixth minute when junior midfielder Michael Turner threaded a pass to sophomore midfielder Djordje Babic.
Despite being hounded by LMU defenders, Babic was able to hit a left-footed one timer past the Lions’ goalkeeper. Turner added to that assist by scoring a goal of his own off a corner kick less than 10 minutes later.
With two early goals serving as a cushion, the Toreros were able to easily handle their opponent’s offensive attack. The defense allowed LMU to get only three shots on goal, while not conceding a goal in open play.
The only tally of the night for the visitors came on a penalty kick after a third USD goal had effectively put the game out of reach already. The 3-1 victory snapped a three match losing streak to the conference foes in Los Angeles.
Olsen spoke about the importance of the triumph against the Lions in terms of getting everyone back on track.
“I think they [LMU] are the hardest game in our conference,” Olsen said. “Winning that game can really push you in the right direction for conference [play]. We felt like it was a must to get a convincing win after the loss [to UCSB].”
The energy from this momentous victory carried over into the Toreros’ next match against the University of Portland Pilots on Oct. 16.
In stark contrast to the comfortable victory against LMU, this match was much more nerve-racking for everyone in Torero Stadium. Luckily, USD prevailed by a final score of 3-2 despite losing senior defender Jose Merlo to a red card in the 56th minute.
Again, the Toreros got off to a hot start, knocking home two goals in the first 22 minutes. The Pilots soared back to tie the game with two quick goals of their own in a span of less than two minutes. The back and forth pace of the first half set the stage for a wild final 45 minutes, which featured a thrilling finish.
With their foot firmly planted on the accelerator, USD fired 12 shots in the match’s second half. They finally got one to hit the back of the net when sophomore forward Patrick McGrath headed in a cross from Turner with just 15 minutes left in regulation.
These wins against LMU and Portland were parlayed with a 3-1 victory over Gonzaga to bring the Toreros’ conference record to a perfect 3-0-0.
The highlight of the game came when redshirt junior midfielder Ryan Camara bailed out his goalkeeper Thomas Olsen, who had come off his line, by deflecting a Gonzaga shot away from the net in the game’s early stage. This kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard until the 79th minute, at which point USD had already put three balls past the Gonzaga goalkeeper.
A win in Nashville, Tenn. against the Lipscomb Bisons kept the winning streak alive. It was the fourth game in a row in which the Toreros scored three times. Three has been a magic number for coach McFadden’s team, as they are undefeated this year when scoring at least a trio of goals.
Senior midfielder and team co-captain Connor O’Neill revealed that the offense has really come together recently.
“We’ve really found our feet trying to keep possession of the ball and create holes in their defense for easy opportunities,” O’Neill said. “The whole team got on board and our practices and games have been at a different level.”
This high level of play continued into November as the Toreros earned victories on the road against fellow WCC members in the Pacific Tigers and Saint Mary’s Gaels. The weekend sweep pushed USD’s winning streak to six matches and kept them unbeaten in conference play.
With the team sitting in first place in the West Coast Conference, things have turned around completely since being obliterated a month ago in Santa Barbara.
The cherry on top of this winning sundae came when Michael Turner was named WCC Player of the Week. Moving forward, the Toreros will hope to become the WCC team of the year.
O’Neill pointed out that this goal looked like a far reach from reality only a month ago.
“We weren’t working hard enough [earlier in the season] and if we continued to play the way we had, we could kiss the conference and the tournament goodbye,” O’Neill said. “Darragh Vieyra, our captain, and I called a team meeting in an attempt to motivate and inspire our team. We told the guys that we have got to start playing to our ability.”
If the Toreros ride this unpredictable season all the way to the NCAA Tournament, this team meeting will be remembered as one of the true turning points of the 2015 season.