Showing flexibility and discipline on the road, the men’s soccer team shut down Drew University while down a man in a 0-0 tie following a 2-0 loss to Stevens Institute of Technology.
The Lions, 3-3-1, had their work cut out for them in both games, starting with the trip to Drew. Thirty-two minutes in, Lions junior goalkeeper Maciej Libucha was ejected when the referee judged he handled the ball outside the box.
“At the end of the day, (Libucha) followed his instincts to make a save and keep Drew’s goals on the day at zero,” senior defender Steve Cukar said. “The referee made the call that he had to.”
The College quickly adjusted to the first-half red card, though, and kept its third shutout of the season in adverse circumstances.
“I think it was just us stepping up to the challenge,” said sophomore goalkeeper Jake Nesteruk, who came in for Libucha. “We played very intelligently in the back, and that’s credit to (senior defenders) Ryan Sullivan and Steve Cukar for organizing the team. We knew we would have to grind out this game, and that’s exactly what we did. It was a true team effort.”
It was the first time the College has been reduced to 10 men this season, but practicing with the event in mind paid off: The Lions were able to shift formation, defend as a unit and force the Rangers offense to drift harmlessly wide.
“When going down a man, communication becomes even that more important,” Cukar said. “From the goalkeeper through to the strikers, players must be communicating to keep our form and track the runs the opposing players are making. We also changed around our formation giving them some more room on the flanks while keeping our numbers in the middle of the pitch.”
The College faced 13 shots, but Nesteruk was only called upon to make a pair of saves. The Lions saw the game out while managing to threaten the Rangers’ goal as well.
“Each player must limit mistakes and play safely,” Cukar said. “We were able to do these things while still playing our game and being dangerous on the offensive end.”
The Lions also had opportunities to score in the 2-0 loss to Stevens, but failed to score for the first time this season as the Ducks defense held firm.
Stevens’s goals on both sides of halftime — the game-winner coming on a penalty in the 39th minute — dropped the College to .500 to end its long, season-opening road trip.
The Ducks’ tallies were the only goals conceded by Nesteruk in his 310 minutes playing for the Lions, though, and he has teamed up with Libucha to allow just one goal per game this year.
“I think it really comes down to the standards of (head coach George) Nazario,” Nesteruk said. “We know what is expected of us, and its just a matter of us not wanting to let him or our teammates down. A lot of credit goes to our back line, (which) has been very consistent, and Maciej, who has been playing very well. Maciej and I have really pushed ourselves during preseason and training, and we are each others supporters and source of motivation.”
The Lions have a chance to get back in the win column this week as they return to home turf on Wednesday, Sept. 17, for a game in Lions Stadium against FDU-Florham.