Mountaineers score 2-1 victory in season opener vs. Hartford
Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012
Updated: Sunday, August 26, 2012 23:08
The West Virginia men’s soccer team defeated the Hartford Hawks 2-1 in the Mountaineers’ season opener Saturday evening during the first leg of the WVU Nike Classic at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
Two of WVU’s most experienced players found the net in the Mountaineers’ first game as a member of the Mid-American conference. Senior midfielder Travis Pittman put West Virginia ahead 1-0 early in the first half and forward Peabo Doue, also a senior, scored the dramatic game-winning goal in the 77th minute.
Hartford defender Connor Yeaney scored the lone goal for the Hawks, capitalizing on a long cross off of a free kick from forward David Bernhardsson.
"Absolutely disappointed," said head coach Marlon LeBlanc about giving up the goal. "We talked about that before the game in regard to their team feeding off of set pieces and counter attacks. Before the game, it was up on the board. Eighty percent of their goals came off set pieces, and what do we do? We bail them out with a silly foul when they weren’t any danger to hurt us. Their best chances came on our turnovers."
Overall, West Virginia (1-0-0) tallied 14 total shots to Hartford’s eight and also took six corner kicks, compared to only a single corner attempt for the Hawks (0-1-0).
The season opener was a physical initiation to the season for both sides, with the teams combining for 41 fouls, seven yellow cards and three red cards. Hartford’s Damion Lowe and WVU true freshman forward Ryan Cain were ejected late in the second half. Hartford’s team manager was sent off after he angrily disputed a referee’s ruling from the sideline in the 25th minute.
"You’ve got to give them credit; they played hard," LeBlanc said. "A couple rash challenges that were borderline, but I think a lot of it was exuberance and youth playing in front of a big crowd. I don’t think there was necessarily any intent to hurt; I think they wanted to tackle and play hard, and certainly our kids matched it and moved on."
The Mountaineers indeed came out aggressively, controlling the pace of the match and assembling a few organized attacks early, including the goal scored by Pittman in the 20th minute to give WVU an early 1-0 lead. After receiving a deep ball from senior Shadow Sebele, Cain touched the ball to Doue, who then crossed it to a streaking Pittman, who headed it into the back of the net for the score and the early advantage.
But Hartford’s manager being sent off only a few minutes later seemed to disrupt WVU’s rhythm. The Hawks seized the momentum and subsequently scored on Yeaney’s header almos five minutes after their manager had been forced to leave the pitch.
In the second half, the physical nature of the match took its toll on Pittman when he ended up flattened on the pitch and had to exit. The senior slapped his hands to the ground in frustration before covering his face in pain, but told reporters after the game the ball had just caught his unlocked ankle in an awkward spot and he would be ready to start in WVU’s next match.
Later in the half, with the game tied at 1-1 and a season-opening draw becoming a reality, senior forward Peabo Doue received a drop-off pass from fellow senior Uwem Etuk and lifted a majestic ball up and over the leaping, fully-extended Hartford goalkeeper into the right upper 90. The dazzling effort put the Mountaineers ahead 2-1 with minimal time left.
"I got the ball on the sideline and saw who was in the box," Doue said. "I just tried to put it back post and give our players a chance. I didn’t want to over hit it, I just wanted to give it a chance, and fortunately it just carried over the goalkeeper and went in."
Hartford made one last-ditch effort to push the ball down toward the Mountaineers’ goal as time expired, but the attack was fruitless, and West Virginia claimed their first win of the year.
"I thought we were the team that really tried to play tonight," said LeBlanc. "I thought it was a gutsy performance from our guys. We scored two great goals through buildup and combination play."
Saturday evening’s attendance of 1,786 marked the fifth-highest total for a men’s soccer match in the history of Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
The Mountaineers wrap up the WVU Nike Classic with a 1 p.m. match Monday against Stetson before heading out on a tough road trip.