By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
The Dayton men’s soccer team defeated Oakland 4-3 in penalty kicks to secure the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win Thursday night at Baujan Field.
The fiercely competitive match ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes of regulation. Neither team was able to score in two 10-minute sudden-death overtime periods, so penalty kicks were necessary to decide who would advance to face Ohio State in Columbus Sunday in the second round.
Oakland, the Horizon League champions who defeated Dayton 2-0 in the regular season at Baujan Field, opened up a 2-0 lead within the first 23 minutes of the match, scoring in the eighth minute and again about 15 minutes later.
Both Oakland goals were scored off corner kicks, the first off a header inside the box by Matt Rickard, and the second off a shot just outside the box, where Austin Ricci received a pass directly off the corner.
It was not the start Dayton was looking for.
“[We] came out with a little bit of jitters,” Dayton head coach Dennis Currier said after the game. “Once the jitters were over, we started playing our game.”
But with Dayton boasting the nation’s top scoring offense, the Flyers just needed to score one before the halftime break to bring the momentum back to their side.
Dayton did just that, in about the most momentous way possible.
The Flyers were applying pressure on Oakland’s defense in the last 30 seconds of the first half, and Oakland defender Raphael Reynolds stayed down on the ground after going up for a header. Referee Chris Penso stopped the clock, the protocol in NCAA soccer when there is an injury, with 14 seconds left.
The result of the play was a corner kick for Dayton, which they would have had to rush to get off if the clock kept running.
Instead, the Flyers took their time and senior midfielder Anthony Keene’s service from the corner was headed in by freshman forward Kennedy Nwabia, cutting Oakland’s lead in half right before halftime.
“Massive,” Currier said of the importance of that goal. “Once we got to 2-1, I actually felt good about the game. We had started to really apply the pressure, and our ultimate goal was to press them, get the ball out wide, take a lot of long shots—and that’s what we kept doing.”
“At halftime, we knew we were going to get another one to tie it up,” senior forward Maik Schoonderwoerd said.
However, it wasn’t a long shot that pulled the Flyers even, although Dayton did have several near misses throughout the match from beyond the box. Junior midfielder James Haupt especially saw his fair share of strikes rocket just wide of goal, though it was one of these wide shots that resulted in the Flyers’ tying goal.
Haupt controlled the ball just outside the top of the box and took a shot trying to make it through a crowd of defenders and teammates.
The ball ricocheted a couple of times, eventually falling right at the feet of senior defender Carlos Sendin, who calmly slotted away his fifth goal of the season from inside the box.
After two scoreless overtime periods not lacking in scoring chances for both teams, the game went to penalty kicks.
Dayton had nine shots on goal to Oakland’s four and doubled the Grizzlies up on corner kick opportunities 8-4.
But those statistics meant nothing once the game got to penalty kicks.
Both teams converted their first three kicks, with Rickard, Gerald Ben and Reynolds scoring past Dayton’s junior goalkeeper Justin Saliba. Schoonderwoerd, senior midfielder Amass Amankona and Haupt responded with goals of their own after each of Oakland’s.
Then, Saliba dove to his left to save Ricci’s attempt, giving Dayton a chance to take the lead in the shootout.
“It’s all about confidence,” Saliba said of a goalkeeper’s mentality during penalty kicks. “When you step up, it’s one-on one. I had so much confidence in my team and in myself. I knew they were going to bury their PKs, and I knew I was going to [save] one.”
Senior defender Alex Amankwaah took advantage of Saliba’s save and gave Dayton the lead, placing his shot perfectly in the bottom right corner.
The Flyers converted on all four of their kicks in the shootout.
Jacob VanderLaan needed to score to extend the Grizzlies’ chances, but he rang his shot off the crossbar. The Flyers stormed the field before the ball even landed on the Baujan grass.
The Flyers will face Ohio State Sunday at 1 p.m. The Buckeyes beat Dayton 2-0 in Columbus this season, and the Flyers will look to avenge a regular season loss to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know how they play, and we know their threats,” Saliba said. “I think knowing that gives us a really good advantage, and I think we should be able to handle everything. As a team of 11, whoever comes off the bench, we all do our jobs. We’re very confident going into Sunday’s game.”
Photo of Dayton men’s soccer running down the field by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.