West Virginia men’s soccer turned up the intensity in the second half to blow past Elon 3-1 on Saturday at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium.
WVU coach Dan Stratford felt a sense of relief as his squad finished comfortably ahead of the Phoenix, but his mood wasn’t quite as chipper as the halftime whistle blew. The Mountaineers went down by a score after conceding an own goal in the early minutes, forcing them to play catch-up in the second half.
“I was probably more frustrated than I have been all season at halftime, and I think I expressed that to the players and to a handful of individuals in particular, and that’s not typically me,” Stratford said. “But as I said to them then, this team has such incredible potential, we have proven that we can compete with anyone in the country, and I want us to realize that potential this season.”
Still, the Mountaineers dominated the pace of the game throughout the contest, beginning in the first half. In fact, the Phoenix hadn’t even registered a shot in the box score before they went ahead on the scoreboard. All it took was a miscue from WVU defender Aaron Denk Gracia to put Elon in front, and Stratford in a bad mood.
WVU came out of the break and immediately put the pressure back on the Phoenix, making sure to get the ball in the attacking third right from the outset. Ryan Crooks set the equalizer up in the 56th minute on a corner kick, whipping it in for Bjarne Thiesen to finish.
Things got messy throughout the rest of the half, and it took a couple of penalties for WVU to eventually overtake Elon. The go-ahead score came off the foot of Ciro Bourlot Jaeggi in the 75th minute, while Pau Jimenez Albelda sealed it in the 85th with another penalty.
West Virginia did, however, continue its finishing woes against Elon. The Mountaineers tested goalkeeper Cam Pelle for five saves, a small number compared to the 14 shots and 66 percent possession posted by the Mountaineers. Stratford has taken notice of this trend, and says part of it is a confidence issue — an aspect of the game that is indispensable for attackers.
“I think the number of times we had players that took a touch in the penalty area today or didn’t quite settle for them and they needed to take another touch, when players are in form, that doesn’t happen,” Stratford said. “They just finish it first time, they just strike through the back of the ball, they don’t need a first touch, they don’t think about the first touch, so we were trying to almost dribble it in today, and I think that is an indication that there is a little bit of a lack of confidence in those moments.”
This win was huge for the Mountaineers, who just took a single win from a four-game road trip. The Mountaineers have three games remaining in the regular season, and they are all against MAC opponents. This final stretch has the potential to cause some real change in the league standings as the season comes to a close.
The last few games mean a whole lot for the team, but also the individuals. Jimenez Albelda, who added his second goal of the season against Elon, sees the light at the end of the tunnel for his West Virginia career — but he still sees plenty of potential in the squad with the postseason in sight.
“It feels great, and scoring, it’s even better,” he said. “It means the world to me, and I really hope that we can have a strong finish to the season, and that we can bring home some titles.”
As it stands, the Mountaineers are in fifth in the MAC standings with a 1-1-1 record. Northern Illinois is on top at 2-0-2, with a matchup at Georgia State at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.
West Virginia next faces Georgia State as well on Thursday before a Halloween clash at Georgia Southern. They close the season at home on Nov. 4 against Bowling Green at 7 p.m.