Men’s soccer (16-3-3) was dealt its first loss since October on Friday against defending National Champions Messiah in the National Semifinals in San Antonio, Texas. In the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, Williams fell 2-1 to the Falcons in a back-and-forth game. Messiah would go on to claim the National Championship on Saturday.
In the culminating match of their season, the Ephs came out aggressively against the Falcons hoping to draw first blood. In the first half, Russo engineered a plan of attack that pressured the defense early and often, and the team had success, controlling the play and outshooting the Falcons 10-5 while besting them in corner kicks 5-3.
In spite of this early pressure, it was the Falcons who scored first, making a goal on a quick counter attack in the 33rd minute. Sophomore Sam Woodworth won a 50-50 ball just yards off the Ephs’ 18-yard box breaking in on keeper Andrew Graham ’10. Woodworth slipped the ball to classmate Trevor Lee, who was crashing in from his right winger position. Lee dribbled around Graham and into the net, giving Messiah the 1-0 advantage. Despite an onslaught of Eph corner kicks immediately preceding half time, Messiah remained unscathed and entered the break with the lead.
The tone of play changed for the Ephs in the second half as Messiah took the first four of five shots in what would become a 14-8 shot advantage for Messiah in the second half. The increased pressure from Messiah came to fruition in the 79th minute when sophomore Derek Black received a cross on the left of the box and delivered a perfectly executed shot low and hard to the right corner past Graham.
However, Williams came back with a vengeance three minutes later when a bouncing unsettled ball in the Messiah box was netted by rookie Matt Ratajczak ’13 after a corner in the 82nd minute.
The Ephs continued to pressure the Falcons for the rest of the match, and while the team had a number of legitimate chances, Falcon keeper Jared Clugston came up huge time and time again. He was particularly impressive as a Charlie Romero ’11 shot from 12 yards out was deflected to the feet of prolific striker Gaston Kelly ’11. Kelly placed a perfect shot to the corner, but Clugstone, first prone on the ground, leapt to the side to make a brilliant save.
The Ephs fought hard to negate the skilled possession of the Falcons but were ultimately unable to make a decisive breakthrough. The Ephs ended their season on a fantastic note, as they legitimately challenged a very talented team in a hard fought match.
“I was very pleased and proud of the way our guys played and conducted themselves at the Final Four,” said Russo. “We battled a very good Messiah team and came up a little bit short at the end. We were a little unlucky, but Messiah definitely are worthy of the National Championship. I am very proud of the way the guys competed all year and am most pleased with the numerous comments from observers about what a classy group of young men they are.”
The Ephs reached the Final Four after two consecutive wins on penalty kicks, first against York in the Sweet Sixteen, then against Christopher Newman in the Elite Eight.
In the first match, York scored first early in the match before Patrick Eboisse ’13 scored a game-tying goal in the 42nd minute. The game ended in a draw, and after two overtimes Than Finan ’13 stepped in for Graham against the York shooters, who netted the first four of their PK attempts. With Williams only converting on three shots, York had a great opportunity to emerge victorious. However, Finan came up huge, stopping a shot by York’s Luca Emil to give Colin Ainsworth ’11 the opportunity to make up the one goal deficit. Ainsworth nailed his shot forcing standard PKs into sudden death, with any goal resulting in victory for the shooter’s team. Eventually, Ratajczak stepped up for the Ephs and definitively captured the right to advance on a 7-6 PK victory.
The game against Newman the next day again ended 1-1, and Finan again stepped into goal for Graham. Finan stopped the second CNU PK, and the Ephs eventually claimed a 4-1 PK victory.
The loss to Messiah on Friday marked the final game for six Williams seniors, including captain Conor Smith ’10, who was the NESCAC Player of the Year this season. While the loss of Smith and Graham, Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10, Ben Mackinnon ’10, Will Whiston ’10 and Peter Houston ’10 will be felt, the team will look for more success next season, as the Ephs will return 23 players from this year’s squad. If the performances of Ratacjack, Eboisse and Finan in NCAAs is any indication, the team is in good hands for years to come.