On Tuesday evening, McPherson Stadium was treated to an epic heavyweight fight, one that might be a preview of the KCAC tournament finals in a little more than a week. The Bulldogs hosted the second-ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan University Eagles, and the game turned out being worth the price of admission.
The Eagles were coming off their first KCAC lost to Kansas Wesleyan University on Saturday, and were hungry for a little redemption. The Bulldogs came into the match riding a five-game winning streak, and playing some of their best soccer of the season.
According to Coach Quint, most teams have played very passively against the Eagles this season, because Wesleyan is usually at another level, talent wise. The Bulldog strategy on Tuesday was just the opposite. They came out and pressed the attack, trying to defend in the midfield and attacking third of the field, rather than in their defensive third.
It was bold strategy, certainly with its share of risk. Five minutes into the game, it backfired on them. OKWU played four really nice one touch passes through the midfield that got behind the Bulldog defense and resulted in the first goal of the game. Undeterred however, the Bulldogs stayed the course. Fourteen minutes later, Mac got the equalizer when Chris Kelly fed Diego Loza, and Loza slotted the ball past the Eagle goal keeper.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the first half, a mistake by the Bulldog back line, led to the Eagles second goal. The Eagles took advantage of bad bounce on a ball played back to Aaron McCready. They collected the misplayed ball and went one on one with Thomas Kleywegt who was in goal for the Bulldogs. As the ball got past Kleywegt, Valentin Ramiriz tried to clear the ball off the goal line. He was unable to clear the ball, and instead he fired the ball into the back of the net resulting in an own goal for the visitors.
After the halftime intermission, Ramirez would get some redemption. Thirty minutes into the second session, he would score his second goal of the game, this time for the Bulldogs on an assist by Navid Istanbullu. From there, the game would remain knotted at twofor the remainder of regulation.
In the first overtime session, the Eagles took the ball down the right side. Deep in the box, OKWU's right winger was able to get off an uncontested cross into the box. Five or six Eagles were camped inside the 6 yard box waiting for the service. As it came in, it found the head of No.10 Sefan Lukic. He got his head on the ball, and placed it into the upper 90, for the game winner.
Statistically it was a very even contest. The Bulldogs had more total shots, 11-9, but both teams finished with five shots on frame. Kleywegt ended up collared with the loss, but he had an excellent game with three saves.
"What people saw tonight is the level we have been trying to get our boys to play at all season", said Bulldog head coach Doug Quint. "That was a top notch side that we went toe to toe with. At the end of the day we didn't get the result we wanted but we certainly played well." Quint added, "Offensively we were good enough in possession tonight, created some dangerous opportunities and defensively we didn't make things easy for them. The passion we had defensively and the intelligence we showed offensively is what we need for our playoff."
With the loss, the Bulldogs fall to 7-7-3 overall, and 7-2-2 in KCAC play. Despite defeating Ottawa University earlier in the season, the Braves ended up leap frogging the Bulldogs in the KCAC standings, by virtue of having eight conference wins to the Bulldogs' seven. Ottawa ends up as the fourth seed in the upcoming KCAC tournament, while the Bulldogs are the fifth seed. The two teams will meet on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, at 7 p.m. on Ottawa's home turf.