West Virginia men’s soccer improved to 2-0 on the season after defeating NIU, its first conference opponent, at home on Saturday, 1-0.
The Mountaineers got the edge in the 12th minute when Tony Pineda converted a penalty kick for the lone score of the game. WVU hunkered down in the second half, and survived an attacking push from the Huskies with a strong showing from goalkeeper Steven Tekesky.
“Probably more of a relief than excitement today, I think that’s quite often the case for the coach comparatively to when you play,” said WVU gaffer Dan Stratford. “But, a good defensive display at times. We would have like to have a bit more of the game, certainly in the second half.”
WVU earned the win without the need of a high-powered attack, utilizing a strong defensive strategy after Pineda’s go-ahead score. Tekesky was the clear anchor for WVU in net, as he parried four NIU attempts away from the net.
His performance culminated in a nearly point-blank save off a shot from Alex Welch, keeping the Mountaineers ahead.
“Obviously, it was the moment, it was the moment in the second half where he needed to deliver and make a world-class save and he obviously did,” Stratford said. “So the fact that he has that in…his abilities on top of typically speaking managing the game really well and being the voice back there as well, it makes a huge difference.”
As the minutes wound down, the game got noticeably testy between the two clubs. The official whistled 27 fouls throughout the match and gave out six yellow cards, five of which came in the second half. The cards were evenly split, 3-3 for each team.
WVU’s second straight clean sheet to start the season is a welcome sight for Stratford, whose squad has yet to concede a goal in his two matches at the helm.
“The effort physically has been incredible from the players, and we still need to improve in that area,” the coach said. “I think the first time at Dick Dlesk I was impress with their energy levels, I thought they would tire given it was their first game on grass, but at the same time I think it’s their fourth or fifth game and relatively speaking it’s still so early for us in the season.”
There were, of course, several areas in which Stratford would like to see improvement.
“At times I thought we showed some excellent football in terms of how we built from the back and our ability to possess the ball and then break their pressure, to have the potential to then exploit them defensively,” he explained, “but in order to exploit them, you need to have people who are willing to run in behind and stretch them defensively to then create space in front. I thought first half, quite honestly with the exception of the moment from Tony for the goal, we didn’t do that well enough.”
WVU is now 2-0 on the season and the lone MAC team with a conference win. The Mountaineers next take the pitch on March 14 at Western Michigan.