PATRIOTS POINT: Ralph Lundy Jr.’s Cougars survived relentless waves of Catamount counterattacks in the first half, took control of the match in the second, and were rolling toward victory — until back-to-back goals by Vermont in the 72nd and 73rd minutes turned the tide for good Friday night.
“We were real lucky in the first half,” Lundy said. “We played terrible – turned the ball over the entire half… I felt great in the second half because we were keeping the ball, we were getting into their third… then we made a very poor decision on a free kick.”
There were earlier moments in which the outcome seemed to hang in the balance, but the decisive one came after the College of Charleston won a free kick in University of Vermont territory in the 71st. With players from both teams jockeying for position in the box (the referee stopped the action to give senior Vermont defender Beau Johnson a warning), the Cougars opted instead to play the ball short.
“We squared it to our player, who got tackled, and they were off to the races,” Lundy said. “Changed the whole game.”
In one sense, yes. In another, the game-winning play was simply a return to the game plan Head Coach Jesse Cormier’s Catamounts employed effectively most of the night. With the Cougars packed into the box, Vermont’s block on the Cougar’s ill-advised attempt to shift the point of attack transitioned instantly into a fluid counter. And after coming up miraculously short on two gimmes in the first half, this time freshman forward Brian Wright calmly slotted the ball past out-manned Cougars keeper Alex Young.
A minute and 38 seconds later, Wright did it again — benefiting from a sideline strip, another rapid counter, and a Cougars’ defense stretched sideways. His finish was practically identical.
Put another way, the first 71 minutes produced 2o shots — 10 by each team. The next two minutes produced two shots — both of them Catamount goals. And though the Cougars attacked furiously to close out the match, they were seldom as sudden or dangerous at the speedy Vermonters.
There were moments in the first half when the Catamounts looked ready to run the home team out of its own stadium. With the men in green blowing up Cougars’ possessions in midfield and slipping through-balls and diagonal passes to wing men who darted upfield on every turnover, the match often resembled a Cougars’ passing drill occasionally interrupted by a Catamounts’ track meet. And while Vermont enjoyed only a modest advantage in shots at the half-hour mark, theirs had been far more dangerous.
The breaking point appeared to have arrived in the 32nd minute, when Charleston defender Tucker Coons saw yellow after bringing down Wright in the penalty area. Young’s dive on the ensuing penalty kick went the right way, but Wright’s shot sailed high over the crossbar, and the Cougars stayed in the hunt.
Yet another counterattack in the 40th minute produced the night’s wildest series, with the Catamounts beating Young on the left, only to see two shots rebound off first one post, then the other, with a third shot blocked by Charleston captain Tam McGowan in between.
Other than those moments of panic, the first half had a predictable rhythm: The Cougars would bring the ball up to the midstripe, knock five to eight square passes back and forth across the pitch, and then give the ball up in midfield without generating much pressure on the Vermont back line.
“We knew (before the game) that they defended and countered,” Lundy said. “They had a great game plan. Our style is to spread the field, keep the ball. When you spread the field with players, that means you’re vulnerable to a counterattack. So they were pretty fast… In the first half they earned goals but didn’t get them.
“At halftime I asked my team to do certain things and they did them. I felt really confident we were going to get a win. We were lucky in the first half, no doubt about it. But, the second half we had control. They very seldom crossed the half. But we didn’t get it done.”
Whatever those things were, they produced a significant change in the Cougars’ play. The half began with Vermont holding an 8-5 shots advantage. Charleston caught up to the Catamounts in shots right before going down on goals, and ended the night with 18 shots to Vermont’s 12. Many of those came in the dying moments, with the Cougars pushing frantically to get on the board.
Several of those late chances involved junior transfer Jake Currie, a native of Sheffield England, who subbed into the match in the first half and logged 67 minutes for the Cougars. His final effort, a valiant attempt at a bicycle kick, sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
The most effective Cougar on offense, though, was junior midfielder Troy Peterson, who put two of his six shots on frame, but failed to score.
Freshmen once again played a major role in the Cougar effort, with Erik Clark, Xavier “Xavi” Rajpaul, Ike Cross and Brock King all contributing big minutes.
The loss dropped the Cougars to 1-3 on the season.
TOP IMAGE: With Jake Currie trailing, Vermont Drayton sets up to put a shot into an empty net in the first half. Charleston would miraculously emerge from the attack with the scoreless draw intact. Dan Conover photos.