Author: Brody Barkan
Through the opening games of the season, the Occidental men’s soccer team (5-0-1 overall; 2-0-1 SCIAC) has been putting goals away early and often. Before halftime of Saturday’s game against Pomona-Pitzer, the Tigers were already up 2-0 and, despite giving up a late goal, secured a 2-1 victory.
Head coach Rod Lafaurie believes in the philosophy of “90 for 90.” The idea is “90 miles an hour for 90 minutes.” Lafaurie is opposed to the slow buildup of many soccer teams and pushes his team to constantly counter and attack as much as possible for as long as possible.
“We put a lot of pressure on teams and they struggle to deal with our pace and tenacity,” said Lafaurie.
Based on the early season results (which include 7-0 and 5-1 victories) Lafaurie’s style of play has been effective in-game. By continually attacking and pushing numbers forward, Tiger opponents find themselves defending for long stretches of time without generating an attack of their own.
After being held scoreless in their first SCIAC outing against Whittier in a grueling 0-0 battle, the Tigers stormed out of the gates against the Sagehens. It only took six minutes for striker Connor Freeman (senior) to put the Tigers on the board. Freeman outran a defender and one-timed the ball over the Pomona-Pitzer goalie for an opening goal. Defender Keegan McChesney* (senior) and forward Morgan Bennett-Smith (junior) were both credited with the assist.
Freeman and Bennett-Smith both have pace and keen attacking positioning. Already, this striker duo has combined for five goals and three assists.
Although this was Freeman’s third goal of the young season, he feels he and Bennett-Smith have the potential to be even more successful in putting away chances.
“Morgan and I are trying to develop some more plays together … we’re really trying to combine more up top,” said Freeman.
After Freeman’s strike, the Tigers continued to press with midfielders Zach Conrad (senior) and Michael Tonetti* (senior) nearly converting two free kick opportunities
During the first half, the Tigers controlled possession and rarely left the final third of the pitch.
Near the end of the first half, Oxy nursed a 1-0 lead despite multiple shots on goal. But in the 44th minute, right back Liam Walsh (first-year) got forward to receive a ball from fellow first-year midfielder Ethan Glass. Walsh, a natural righty, smashed the ball with his left foot from the right flank, leaving Sagehen keeper Ben Mitchell no chance but to watch from the ground as the ball rocketed into the side netting. The student section and Tiger bench exploded when the first-year gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Walsh said he was stunned by his first collegiate goal.
“It was an unreal experience … the celebration was great and the atmosphere was amazing,” Walsh said.
A center midfielder in high school, Walsh was asked to play in the back line this year to better suit the team.
“I got asked to play defense and just slid into right back, and it’s been great so far,” said Walsh.
In addition to the attacking firepower of the Tigers, starting keeper Theo Atkinson (senior) has been nearly perfect all season. He has recorded two shutouts and is yet to give up more than one goal in a game.
However, Saturday the Sagehens were able to get on the board. In the 57th minute, Atkinson made an acrobatic save but was unable to stop the shot off the rebound.
It is clear that the squad has had no problem generating offense even in the absence of last year’s leading scorer Tod Kawada (sophomore). Kawada tallied 11 goals in his first year but is currently sitting out with an ankle injury.
The team is anticipating his return, and Lafaurie knows that the team will only continue to improve once Kawada is back in the lineup.
“Bringing Tod back is only going to add more quality. You can never have too much quality in the front line,” Lafaurie said.
The Tigers improved to 2-0-1 after a 2-1 victory at Cal Lutheran on Monday. The team’s next home game is Wednesday, Sept. 16th at 7 p.m. against a strong La Verne team that is currently sitting at 5-0 overall.
*Tonetti and McChesney are Weekly Staffers.
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