One week into the conference portion of the 2012 season, the West Chester University men’s soccer team has already done something that it could not do all of last year.
Tommy Ryan, Alex Katz, and Dan Venuto all got their names on the scoreboard as West Chester won its first conference game since October 2010, beating California (Pa.) by a 3-1 score at the South Campus soccer fields on Saturday afternoon.
West Chester came out swinging early on, and senior defender Brett Snyder almost gave the Golden Rams a lead in the eighth minute, only for his shot to be saved by California goalkeeper Shane Donovan.
After 20 minutes of back-and-forth soccer between the two teams, West Chester broke the deadlock when sophomore defender Tommy Ryan took a pass from sophomore midfielder John Frederick and found the back of the net in the 28th minute. It was Ryan’s second goal of the season, having scored off a free kick play in last week’s 3-0 win over Holy Family.
Then, only six minutes later, junior forward Conor Malarney found sophomore midfielder Alex Katz, who beat Donovan to put West Chester up 2-0.
West Chester would take that lead into halftime. They had more work to do, though, because California wasn’t prepared to go home without a fight.
Just moments into the second half, California’s Chris Moehler was taken down in the area by a West Chester player, and the referee awarded California a penalty kick. Moehler then stepped up and slotted the spot kick past Golden Rams goalie Garrett Bleiler to cut West Chester’s lead to 2-1 in the 48th minute.
California then began aggresively searching for an equalizer. A minute after Moehler’s goal, California’s Brad Colvin came close to scoring, but Bleiler was there to make the save.
Bleiler continued his strong performance deeper into the second half, making several big saves. He denied Moehler in the 58th minute, and stopped a Christopher Karns shot in the 74th minute.
West Chester had their own share of opportunities as well, though, as they looked to put the game out of reach. Brett Snyder had his shot in the 55th minute saved by Donovan.
In the 79th minute, California was whistled for a foul, giving West Chester a free kick from about 29 yards out. On the ensuing set piece, senior defender Dan Venuto stepped up and rocketed the free kick into the left side of the net to give the Golden Rams a 3-1 lead.
California continued to press the West Chester defense, with Karns and Jeffrey Kyel each putting attempts on goal in the last 10 minutes. But Bleiler was there for the save on both occasions, and the Rams held on for a massive victory in their first home league match of the season.
To put into perspective how important the victory was, West Chester did not win a game in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference throughout the entire 2011 season. Now the Rams have a win and a tie from their first two league games of 2012. In fact, with four points, West Chester has already eclipsed their PSAC point total from 2011, which was three.
It was also West Chester’s first victory over California since September 2007. California was picked to finish third in the PSAC preseason coaches’ poll, while the Rams were picked to finish seventh. But with Saturday’s win, the Rams have demonstrated that they could have what it takes to make a postseason push this year.
“The win was a progressive one,” said sophomore forward Cameron Scott, who was on the field for 35 minutes against California.
“We have been on an unbeaten streak these past three games and with this win putting us near the top of the table, it gives us confidence and hopefully more wins to come,” Scott said.
Earlier in the week, the Golden Rams hit the road for their first PSAC contest of the season as they traveled to Shippensburg on Wednesday. West Chester played strongly throughout, earning a 1-0 lead when junior forward Kevin McCann scored in the 53rd minute. But Shippensburg’s Jonathan DeNicola equalized in the 68th minute.
Neither team was able to bag a winner despite two 10-minute overtime periods, and the game ended as a 1-1 draw. Each side left the game with a single point to start the PSAC season. It gave West Chester positive momentum to carry into their first home league game, which they ended up winning, 3-1, over California on Saturday.
West Chester returns to action on Tuesday as they travel to Delaware to face the University of Wilmington. The Rams will return to PSAC action over the weekend, facing Mercyhurst on Friday and Gannon on Saturday in a pair of important road tests.
Joey Samuel is a fourth-year student majoring in political science and Spanish. He can be reached at JS719745@wcupa.edu.