Last time the West Virginia University men’s soccer team faced Virginia Tech, the match ended with 33 fouls being called and two red cards, but WVU walked away with the 3-0 victory.
On Tuesday, that physical play we saw more than a year ago was ever so present. However, it was the Hokies who got the better of the Mountaineers, as they picked up the 2-0 win and WVU fell to 4-6.
In the first half, the Mountaineers and Hokies recorded 10 fouls each, with Zak Leedom and Jonathan Cruickshank receiving yellow cards.
With the amount of fouls being called, there was a lack of solid offensive opportunities for both squads.
The Hokies dictated possession early in the game as the Mountaineers, who hold a 1-3 record on the road, looked lost. The Hokies’ Ricardo John nearly scored in the first minute, but the Mountaineers caught a break.
After 10 minutes into the match, the Mountaineers got into a rhythm as Jamie Merriam and Tucker Stephenson led the way with two shots on goal each.
"We had some great chances," said head coach Marlon LeBlanc to WVUSports.com. "Unfortunately, we just didn’t connect when we needed to."
The physical tenacity from the Mountaineers did not stop, however, as Mike Desiderio and Jack Elliott were both nailed for yellow cards in the first five minutes of the second half.
Som Essome put the Hokies ahead in the 57th minute after a cross from Daniel Laurentano. Essome crashed the net for a header to record his third goal of the year.
Jamie Merriam responded quickly, but Virginia Tech goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard was there for the stop. Lundgaard left the Mountaineers’ offense at a stalemate, as the sophomore recorded six saves through 60 minutes.
Just over 10 minutes later, Reece Alexander doubled the Hokies lead to 2-0. Alexander danced past an aggressive attack by WVU goalkeeper Alec Boerner for his second goal of the season.
"That’s the way soccer goes sometimes. We got caught on the counter and unfortunately weren’t able to come up with the result tonight," LeBlanc said.
After surrendering his second goal of the game, Boerner was replaced by Daniel Diaz, who had not started since a 3-1 loss to Wright State on Sept. 15.
From that moment, WVU was trying to play catch-up and the frustration was showing as things were not going in its favor. Meanwhile, the Hokies tried to kill as much time as they could by not exactly going full speed after the whistle.
WVU outshot the Hokies 13-7 and had the 6-3 edge in shots on goal – it’s become the new norm for the Mountaineers to outshoot their opponents, but fail to walk away with the win.
"Soccer is a cruel game," LeBlanc said. "They had three shots and scored on two of them."
Lundgaard earned his first shutout of the year after earning six in his freshman year. After Merriam threatened shortly after Essome’s goal, Lundgaard did not have to record another save.
Desiderio and Merriam had the best chances for the Mountaineers, as both shots sent Lundgaard sprawling to prevent the attempt.
Merriam led WVU with four shots on goal. Ultimately, it was the lack of discipline that doomed the Mountaineers. A total of three yellow cards and 17 fouls were called on West Virginia.
The yellow cards from Elliott, Desiderio and Leedom forced the Mountaineers to play a more conservative style, as another yellow card from any one of those three would have resulted in WVU having to play a man down. Virginia Tech took advantage of the situation and never let off the pedal.
The good news for WVU was that Ryan Cain was dressed for the matchup. Cain had been recovering from an ankle sprain putting him out of action for the past four games. It remains to be seen if the team’s leading goal scorer is in the starting lineup on Friday.
The Mountaineers will look to rebound as they open up conference play against the Western Michigan Broncos on Friday at Dick Dlesk Stadium.