In two thrilling matches, Wright State and Loyola emerged on the winning side of the ledger, setting up a showdown for the Horizon League Men's Soccer Championship. At the beginning of the season, the two teams were pegged to finish in the bottom two spots on the League ladder.
Semifinal Match No. 1: (2) Wright State 2, (4) Green Bay 1
In a physical match, No. 2 Wright State pushed past No. 4 Green Bay, 2-1, in the Horizon League Men’s Soccer Tournament Semifinals. Picked last in the Horizon League preseason poll, the win puts the Raiders in the League championship match for the first time since 1998.
An All-Newcomer Team selection, Justin Laird potted both goals for the Raiders, who never trailed in the match. Both of the freshman’s tallies came on feeds from senior Brian Cothern.
Laird’s second goal of the match proved to be the game-winner in the 62nd minute. Cothern dribbled down the left side, centering a pass to Laird just above the keeper’s box. Laird pushed the ball to the right corner, beating Phoenix keeper Ryan Wehking.
Wright State (11-6-2) drew first blood after narrowly avoiding an early deficit. Instead, Justin Laird was fed a ball in the box by Brian Cothern, dribbled just outside the box, then turned and fired from 20 yards out, beating Green Bay’s (11-7-1) Ryan Wehking to the upper left-hand corner.
The lead was short-lived, though, as Green Bay’s pressure earned them a penalty kick in the 30th minute. Horizon League Player of the Year Tony Walls calmly converted, placing his shot underneath a diving Craig Feehan to knot the match.
Both teams narrowly missed on quality chances, as well. Early in the first half, Walls sent in a header that beat Feehan, but was cleared off the line. Five minutes into the second half, Will McAteer had a go-ahead goal in sight, sending a dribbler past Wehking, but Tony Patterson raced back to clear the ball.
With 18 minutes left, a scramble in front allowed Kirby Allen a point-blank shot on frame, but Feehan was able to punch the ball away. In the match, the Newcomer of the Year made seven saves. The loss was the first for Wehking in regulation in Horizon League Tournament play; the keeper made four saves on the night.
The match was a war of attrition, with a combined 39 fouls and four yellow cards.
Semifinal No. 2 – (6) Loyola 0, (1) Valparaiso 0 (Loyola 5-4 PKs)
Loyola’s patience paid off in a big way, as Peter McKeown led the Ramblers to a win over top-seeded Valparaiso, 0-0, in penalty kicks. The Ramblers bested the Crusaders, 5-4, in eight rounds of penalties.
McKeown withstood a relentless Valparaiso (9-6-5) attack, as the Crusaders put seven shots on net and took 21 shots on the night. Still, Loyola (6-11-2) was content to pack in the defensive third and counter the Crusaders.
In the penalty session, Tanner Nebia netted the game-winner, as Kyle Zobeck guessed right and got his hands on the shot, but could not get enough of the ball to keep it out of the net. When McKeown corralled Brendan Roth’s attempt, the Ramblers became the first lowest-seeded team to reach the Horizon League Championship.
Loyola last captured the League title in 2008; the Raiders have never won a men’s soccer title. The teams met on Oct. 22 in Dayton, with Wright State coming away with a 3-1 victory.