By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
The SLU Billikens Men’s soccer team dropped its season-opening game to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish by the score of 3-2. On a different night, the Billikens could have walked away with a different result, however despite strong play through 95% of the match, it was ultimately the 5% that made the difference.
The Irish came into Hermann Stadium as the number nine team in the nation, one touted for its outstanding set-piece play and quality defensive play, so while they were certainly the favorites the Billikens were by no means outmatched or underrated having received votes in the national poll themselves.
The test against the Fighting Irish was seen by many as a measuring stick for both programs to understand where exactly they stood. As informative as preseason games or polls can be, testing yourself against the best is certainly a better method of measurement.
What plagued the Billikens throughout the game was small mistakes that lead to massive consequences. All three goals against came on the Billikens being unable to recover on mistakes made and being punished by a very capable opponent. The first goal against in just the second minute of the game when the Irish capitalized on a poor foul committed just outside the Billiken box. Freshman Goalkeeper and US U20 national team member Patrick Schulte was able to stop the initial shot on goal but could not corral the rebound, which led to an easy goal from Notre Dame freshmen Mohammad Abualnadi.
From there the Billikens were able to settle in and refocus for the remainder of the half. “It felt like our learning moment”, Billiken Head Coach Kevin Kalish said after the Saturday night game. “It felt like we were switched on, we had to respond, and we played our way into the game”.
The Billikens were able to find an equalizer just before the half when sophomore Chris Bruch buried his first goal as a Billiken into the lower right corner of the Irish net, a rocket from twelve yards out had the Billikens going into halftime all knotted up at one.
Early into the second half, the Billikens looked to be the dominant team in the game. Controlling possession and forcing the Irish to play on their heels. Despite that strong play, it was the Irish who scored the next goal. After a flurry of Billiken shots and pressure, the Irish escaped and were able to mount to a counterattack which led to a second Irish tally. Only moments later after the reset, a lazy Billikens pass in the midfield was intercepted and sprung a breakaway for Aided McFadden who put the third Irish score past the Billikens Keeper.
SLU was eventually able to answer with an impressive header coming off a set piece from Billiken captain John Klein and another flurry of opportunities in the dying moments. But the damage was done. A handful of mistakes and a poor 20 minutes ultimately cost the Billikens their home opener.
“I don’t know if it was fatigue induced or our inability to stay disciplined through the entire 90 minutes,” Kalish said. “But our concentration level dropped, and they hit us twice in transition. That’s what good teams do.”
Despite the disappointing results for the Billikens faithful, who filled Hermann Stadium to the tune of 5,942 in attendance, one of the largest home crowds in SLU history. There were a lot of positives to take away. The Bills played dominant soccer for most of the first half and the back end of the second half. The played staunch defense when necessary and were able to control play in all parts of the field. To accomplish that against one of the best teams in the country speaks to the Billikens talent and potential.
Kalish and the Billiken coaching staff though were most pleased by the resilience of the club in the face of adversity, “I thought there was some collective fight…I was happy to see that they kept pushing. Maybe a ball bounces a different way and that could be the equalizer. Games like these come down to fine margins and tonight we were just on the wrong end of it”.
The Billikens will be in action next on Friday, September 6th when they travel to Dallas to take on SMU. They will then make a stop at SIUE on the 13th before returning to Hermann Stadium when the host Tulsa on Tuesday the 17th.