With three games remaining in Colonial Athletic Association play, the Drexel men’s soccer team is tied with Northeastern University for first place in the standings. They both have 16 points and their eyes set on a regular-season conference title and the right to host the CAA Tournament. This past week, the Dragons faced off against two conference rivals and continued to play hard as they try to hang on to the top spot in the CAA.
Drexel’s Oct. 13 match against Towson University was much the opposite of how the team has been successful this season. During the first half, the opposition has outscored the Dragons 7-6, but Drexel has dominated second-half play, with an 18-8 edge on goals in the second half and overtime.
The Dragons outplayed the Tigers in the first half and made it count on the scoreboard. In the 42nd minute, junior midfielder Nathan Page weaved through the Towson defense and took a shot from the right side of the box. The ball beat freshman goalkeeper Felix Petermann to his right, hit off the inside of the post and into the goal to put Drexel up by a 1-0 score.
“I guess I’m getting into the right place at the right time,” Page said. “It says I’m a midfielder on the sheet, but I’m really a third forward. This freedom allows me to get in the box.”
Page scored on the Dragons’ fifth shot on goal of the first half, while the Tigers had zero. But halftime was the turning point, as Towson came out of the locker room with much more push on the offensive end. Junior forward Olakunle Banjo was the top player for the Tigers, amassing five total shots, including one that went on goal.
Towson attempted nine shots in the second half, including three that made it through to Drexel goalkeeper Tim Washam. But the senior from Warminster, Pa., was able to stop them all for his third consecutive shutout and sixth of the season. The Tigers’ second-half surge fell short, and a shot that hit the crossbar by sophomore midfielder CJ Corey in the 27th minute ended up being the difference.
“The games are [going to] get tighter and tighter and tougher and tougher,” head coach Doug Hess said. “We [have to] understand that if we want to be front leaders, you [have to] win when you’re supposed to win.”
With the win, the Dragons secured their third three-game win streak of the season and improved their road record to 5-2-1. It is the best mark for the program since 2007, when the team also went 5-2-1 on the road and finished tied for first in the CAA regular-season standings.
Drexel entered its next match against the University of Delaware two points ahead of Northeastern for the top spot in the CAA standings with one more game played. While Hofstra University traveled to Brookline, Mass., to take on the Huskies Oct. 17, the Dragons faced off against the Blue Hens at Vidas Field.
The feeling of the rivalry was very evident early, as both teams played a physical brand of soccer. In the 14th minute, sophomore forward Michele Pataia was knocked down inside the box without a penalty and was given a yellow card after arguing with the referee.
“[Delaware] has always been a tight game since I’ve been here,” Hess said. “It’s a local rivalry. It’s a good rivalry.”
There were no shots on goal by either team through the first 35 minutes of the match. In the 36th minute, junior defender Prince Nartey’s corner kick set up junior defender Evan Reed in front of the net to connect for a 1-0 Delaware advantage. The goal was the first allowed by Drexel in 327 minutes, since Northeastern scored its second goal to defeat Drexel 2-1 Oct. 3.
The Dragons totaled seven shots in the first half, but the team really picked up the attack after Reed’s score. Both of Drexel’s shots on goal in the first half came after the goal, but Blue Hens sophomore goalkeeper Jay Lupas was up to the task on both occasions. The pressure continued into the second half, as the Dragons tallied 11 total shots.
Sophomore forward Fabio Machado helped push the front line forward throughout the match, wreaking havoc in the offensive zone with pressure and creative rushes. Machado attempted six shots, but only one landed on net. As Drexel pushed on, Page got a clear opportunity in the 78th minute and did not waste it.
The Dragons gained possession in front of the Delaware box, and Machado fed a pass to Page in tight space. Page drifted to the top of the box and fired a shot to the lower-left opening of the net for the equalizer. The score was Page’s team-leading seventh of the season, and it marked his fourth consecutive game with a score.
“Once you start scoring goals, you go onto the pitch before a game expecting to score,” Page said. “Once you’re in that sort of form, it’s a nice feeling.”
Both teams had opportunities to secure the victory late in the game and both overtime periods, but Reed of the Blue Hens and senior defender Tal Bublil of the Dragons missed with shots over the crossbar. Although the match ended in a tie, Drexel lost sole possession of first place in the CAA due to a 1-0 double overtime win by Northeastern over Hofstra.
“It’s a funny game; you can have all the forward play and lose,” Hess said. “There’s something to gain in the fact that we grinded [out] a point but can’t settle because we know we’re better than that.”
Next up for the Dragons is a trip to Decatur, Ga., Oct. 20 to face Georgia State University at 1:30 p.m. The Panthers currently sit at the bottom of the CAA standings with a 1-5 conference record, but Drexel will not take them lightly. The Dragons will look to avenge a 4-2 loss at the hands of Georgia State last season.
“We’re [going to] make it a business trip to Georgia State,” Hess said. “We’ll fly down the day of and try to take care of business the next day. It’s a tough scenario, but that’s the next task at hand.”