All they could do was wait.
As the 2012 NCAA College Cup bracket was revealed the evening of Nov. 12, the Drexel men’s soccer team gathered at the Vidas Athletic Complex fieldhouse and waited for their name to appear in the 48-team field. With 46 schools up on the board and just one matchup remaining, the Dragons still held out hope for their 2012 season to remain alive.
Then, as if it were straight from the script of a Disney movie, it happened. Drexel was named as the final at-large team in the bracket, and the room erupted in manic celebration. Not only would the Dragons make their first NCAA College Cup appearance since 1972, but they would also host their first-round matchup Nov. 15 at Vidas Field.
The 12-3-3 Dragons would face the No. 15 Brown University Bears, who finished third in the Ivy League with a 4-1-2 record in conference play and a 13-2-3 overall mark. In a moment 40 years in the making, third-year head coach Doug Hess embraced the gravity of the situation in a pregame speech with the team.
“I told the guys before the game, ‘This isn’t three years, this is 40 years,’” Hess said. “That shouldn’t be a weight on your shoulders; it should be freeing because you kind of set this program free.”
Drexel began the match with pressure in the Brown end, but was unable to get off as much as a shot attempt. Things quickly turned on the Dragons, as the Bears settled into offensive rhythm after the initial push from the home team. In the 17th minute, Washam was forced to make an aggressive save on senior forward Bobby Belair and deflected the ball out of bounds.
On the ensuing corner kick, senior defender Dylan Remick put a pass to the near post, and senior midfielder Thomas McNamara was in perfect position to head the ball past the Drexel defense and into the goal for a 1-0 advantage. It marked the first time the Dragons had trailed in a match since Oct. 17, when they played to a 1-1 draw with the University of Delaware.
Brown continued in the offensive end as the half went on, and in the 42nd minute the Bears struck again. Again, Remick created the opportunity when he fed a ball from the left side of the field to the front of the net. Sophomore midfielder Daniel Taylor leaped higher than Washam and connected with a strong header. The ball struck the crossbar and directed straight down and landed just across the goal line for a good goal and a 2-0 lead.
“They don’t waste any time. They don’t mix any bones about getting the ball forward,” Hess said. “We want the game to go a bit slower, and they want to put the ball on you.”
As the halftime horn sounded, the Dragons knew they were in for a difficult situation in the second half. Brown had conceded just 10 goals on the entire season and allowed more than one goal only once, in a 4-3 win Sept. 21 in Seattle against the University of Washington.
“They’re a big team [that’s] tough to break down and very disciplined defensively,” Hess said. “I told the team, ‘Don’t get sucked into something that you’re not. Keep playing, keep passing, stay committed, and [try to] find a crack in their armor.’”
Drexel came out of the locker room poised to make an impact into the heart of the Brown defense. After recording only six shots in the first half, the Dragons had 16 in the second, as the Bears were content to stay on their back line and play conservatively.
Sophomore John Grosh paced the offensive push in the second half, as the midfielder from Lancaster, Pa., had all four shots in the second frame. Grosh had Drexel’s best chance of the match when he took a free kick just outside the box in the 57th minute. The shot was destined for the top-right corner of the net, but Brown senior defender Eric Robertson was able to get his head on the ball and deflect it safely over the goal.
Although the Dragons held possession for the majority of the rest of the match, they were unable to get one on the board and fell to the Bears by a final score of 2-0. With the win, Brown advanced to the second round of the NCAA College Cup and will travel to College Park, Md., to face the second-seeded University of Maryland Nov. 18.
As the end of the season fell suddenly upon Drexel, Hess was able to find solace in what success the team had in the 2012 campaign.
“When we get a chance to actually reflect on it a little bit more, we will start to realize what [we’ve done],” Hess said. “To be picked 10th in the [Colonial Athletic Association] and finish first outright is a huge accomplishment, and I’m proud of our team.”
Winning the regular-season CAA title earned the Dragons the right to host the conference tournament that took place Nov. 9 and 11 at Vidas Field. In the semifinal matches Nov. 9, second-seeded Northeastern University faced third-seeded James Madison University, and top-seeded Drexel followed with a match against fourth-seeded Hofstra University.
“It’s funny, a lot of people were like, ‘It’s on your home field, you’re the No. 1 seed, blah blah blah,’” Hess said. “To every one of them I said, ‘Listen, Hofstra’s not coming to lose. They have a good history [in the CAA Tournament].’”
In the 26th minute, sophomore forward Fabio Machado intercepted a Hofstra clearing attempt and rushed down the right side of the field. He unleashed a low shot from the far-right corner of the box that deflected off a Pride defender and into the far left side of the net to give Drexel a 1-0 advantage. It was Machado’s fourth goal of the season and first since Oct. 3 in a 2-1 loss against Northeastern University.
Although it was Machado who scored the lone goal in the first half, both goalkeepers shined when given the opportunity. Hofstra senior Adam Janowski kept the Pride in the match by stopping six shots in the half, and Drexel senior Tim Washam stopped all three shots directed his way, as the Dragons ended the first frame with a 1-0 lead.
The Pride began the second half aggressively and looking for the equalizer to keep their season alive. Drexel held solid, and the defense was able to handle Hofstra with physical play. After Janowski stopped Machado in the 68th minute for Drexel’s first shot on goal of the half, junior forward Mark Donohue replaced him as a substitute.
Just as he had done Nov. 9 against James Madison University, Donohue made an immediate impact on the field. He dribbled through the Hofstra defense and found himself in a one-on-one situation with Janowski. The Pride goalkeeper saved the attempt but then tackled Donohue in the box, and the Dragons were awarded a penalty kick in the 77th minute.
Junior forward Nathan Page stepped up to take the kick for Drexel. Page was 1-1 in penalty kick attempts this season, the score being in the Dragons’ 1-0 victory Oct. 18 at Georgia State University. Contrary to his attempt against the Panthers, where he fired a curler to the top-left corner of the net, Page pushed a low shot right of center that Janowski was able to stop, preventing Drexel from grabbing a 2-0 lead.
It turned out to be a huge momentum swing for Hofstra, as the Pride struck just two minutes later. Junior midfielder Chris Griebsch fed a hard pass to sophomore forward Maid Memic, who was streaking through the center of the Dragons’ defense. Memic corralled the ball off his chest, rushed toward the net and fired a shot over the outstretched arms of Washam to knot the score at 1-1 in the 79th minute.
“Soccer’s a funny game. It’s a cruel game at times. We miss a penalty to go 2-0 up, and we bled a goal,” Hess said. “Our opponent never stopped; a lot of credit goes to Hofstra [for that.]”
Neither team scored in the final 20 minutes of regulation, so the match advanced to extra time. The overtime periods were filled with excitement, as the first goal would send either team into the CAA championship game against Northeastern, who handily defeated JMU just hours before by a score of 5-0.
The Dragons thought they had the win in the 107th minute, but sophomore forward Michele Pataia was not able to finish a cross from Page in front of a wide-open net. Washam preserved the tie score with just five seconds left in double overtime when he was able to make a save against Memic from the left side of the box. On that note, the final horn sounded and the match would be decided in a shootout.
The first two players from Hofstra, freshman midfielder Joseph Holland and senior midfielder Mike Annarumma, scored, as did Drexel’s Pataia and sophomore midfielder John Grosh, for a 2-2 tie after the second round.
In the third round, Memic hit the outside of the post and junior midfielder Ken Tribbett scored to give the Dragons a lead. The fourth round began with Washam making a sliding save to his left on junior midfielder Herbert Biste, which left Drexel in position to secure the win by hitting only one of its next two attempts.
That is where it all went downhill for the home team.
Junior midfielder Jared Girard had his shot saved by Janowski in the fourth round, and Hofstra’s Griebsch was successful in his attempt. Junior defender Tal Bublil then fired his kick over the net and the shootout went to the sixth player. In the sixth round, senior midfielder Stephan Barea scored off the inside of the right post to put the Pride ahead.
Drexel sophomore midfielder Guido Pena had an opportunity to push the shootout to the seventh round, but his left-footed shot hit the crossbar and away from goal. Pena buried his head in his hands in disbelief as Hofstra celebrated a victory that seemed unfathomable just minutes before.
“They say the cruelest way to lose a game of soccer [is] on penalties,” Hess said. “Everybody has a million different ideas of how to solve the game, but it is what it is; it has held its tradition forever.”
With the win, the Pride secured a berth in the CAA Tournament championship as they looked for their first title since 2006. However, Hofstra fell to Northeastern Nov. 11 by a score of 1-0. Senior forward and CAA Player of the Year Don Anding scored in the 106th minute in double overtime to give the Huskies their first CAA Tournament title in program history.
Just as Northeastern made history for its program, so did Drexel. The Dragons will begin the 2013 season as defending regular-season CAA champions, coming off an 8-1-1 record in CAA play. Drexel finished with a 13-3-3 season record, their best overall performance since 1990, when they went 13-4-2.
As the season ends, the Dragons bid farewell to the 2013 senior class, which consists of goalkeepers Tres Heffron and Tim Washam; defenders John Boswell and Ben Miller; midfielders John Carroll, Malcolm LeBourne and Brandon Zeller; and forwards Eric Lynch and Phillip Hagerty.