To put it lightly, the St. Olaf men’s soccer team didn’t produce an especially encouraging start to the 2017 season. After starting the fall with five consecutive losses, only scoring once during each of those contests combined, the outlook for the remainder of the schedule appeared particularly grim.
However, the dearth of offense finally vanished this past weekend, as the Oles claimed their first victory of the season, a tense 2-1 win over conference rival St. Mary’s. Though the team’s overall record currently rests at an unsettling 1-5, securing this road win boosts their conference record to a modest 1-1. This is an exponentially more surmountable hurdle to overcome provided the young starters can continue improving individually and progressing as a team. According to the veteran players, though the relative inexperience initially presented an obstacle, the new faces on the team are quickly emerging into noteworthy talent.
“Obviously our goalkeeper graduated and our two centerbacks graduated, so we’ve had a lot of younger players stepping up,” veteran
midfielder Simon Broccard ’18 said. “We actually have three freshman starters this year, so they’ve been very impressive with their play. Some of the players who didn’t get as many minutes [last season] have also been doing a really good job of stepping up.”
Most prominent among this collective of new starters is goalkeeper Ben Westermeyer ’19. Though he struggled to shake off the rust during the season’s initial few games, surrendering seven goals in three contests combined, Westermeyer has stepped up his game during St. Olaf’s recent stretch of play. During the past two weeks, he’s only allowed one score in each of the Oles’ three matches, including a convincing six-save performance against Loras to keep the contest scoreless through regulation. If he can continue to minimize the damage and keep St. Olaf within a realistic striking distance of victory, men’s soccer can easily turn things around.
“[Ben] was in Ole Band last year, so that conflicted of course,” Broccard said of the team’s new goalkeeper. “But it’s great to have him on the team now, he’s been a very strong presence back there in goal.”
Though St. Mary’s struck early, the Oles finally found their groove on offense late during regulation, with rookie Thierno Gueye ’21 delivering a dramatic score at 84:21 to send the game into overtime, his first goal for St. Olaf. From there, veteran Kyle Leemon ’18 capitalized on a depleted Cardinal defense, administering the climactic final blow while claiming the team lead in goals (2) en route to a 2-1 Ole win. Finally, St. Olaf hurdled beyond their dearth of offense to deliver in the clutch.
“Offensively, we’ve been struggling, so we put some different players in our attacking tactics, and that seemed to pay off,” Broccard noted of the victory. “The second goal was inevitable for the other team, as they [St. Mary’s] had gotten a red card with ten minutes left, and that brought us into overtime.
You could tell that it was just going to be either 20 minutes of them defending or a goal [for St. Olaf] pretty quickly.”
Despite a severe scoring drought culminating in an overwhelmingly discouraging beginning to the 2017 season, St. Olaf finally has some semblance of momentum heading into a home stretch of conference games against Gustavus and St. John’s. Overall record aside, if their winning percentage within the conference remains in a positive direction, the Oles can easily bounce back.
“I think we’ll keep [these tactics] in mind for the future,” Broccard said. “We still didn’t play as good as we wanted. We probably could have possessed the ball a little bit more, and we have to capitalize a little more on our chances, but overall I think we’re moving in the right direction, and getting a win is a really nice feeling at this point in the season. Plus it’s really helpful because it was a conference game, so we’re starting the conference 1-1, which is respectable.”