The Mercer men’s soccer team is now 3-2-1 after going unbeaten in their last four matches.
On Aug. 31, Mercer men’s soccer secured the first win of the Hotels at Grand Prairie Classic at Shea Stadium during the opening game against Nebraska-Omaha. The 2-0 result came out of two set piece goals and a fierce defensive line.
In the 31st minute, the Bears earned a crucial set piece in Nebraska’s end of the field. Junior, Joey Heavner bent a free kick into the box where Ryan King was waiting. King headed into the back of the net to give the Orange and Black a 1-0 lead.
Head Coach, Brad Ruzzo, stated, “[The success of set pieces] starts with [our team’s ability] to earn those set pieces in their end which was great.”
Also commenting on the importance of set pieces, Will Betts says, “Set pieces are a massive part of any game. Over half of all goals scored at the professional level are done so within three passes of the initial ball on a restart. Our ability to score on set pieces this year is going to go a long way in dictating our success, and this weekend was proof of how important they are.”
Ruzzo, in his post game interview added, “The balls that Joey Heavner played today were just phenomenal on their service….We probably could have had a couple more goals and set pieces early in the first half, but obviously, we’ve been stressing that and I’m certainly happy to see that come to fruition.”
Heavner’s playmaking ability stands out, but a few other players stand out. According to Betts, “Carl Oscar is a phenomenal playmaker and plays clinical through balls and opens the field up for us. He’s continuing to prove himself as an elite player. Ryan King is also a huge workhorse for us on both sides of the ball. He wins the ball for us in critical areas and allows us to take advantage of opponents being out of shape defensively.”
Play slowed down at the start of the second half due to the Bears’ more conservative game play having entered the half with a 1-0 lead over Nebraska. Game play picked up in the 62nd minute when freshman David Murtaugh fired a shot wide of the goal. Two minutes later, the Bears earned another set piece, allowing another chance to score a goal. Off of a free kick service, Heavner provided senior Will Betts an opportunity to slide the ball past the keeper and into the goal to give Mercer a 2-0 lead.
When asked what changed about the team’s dynamics in this game compared to the loss in the season opener games, Will Betts says, “We got back to our roots as a team and defended tenaciously from front to back and that was ultimately the key to our games. The locker room felt a lot more comfortable when we knew that we could do the necessary things to get wins.”
Ruzzo, in response to the result of the game, stated, “We’re happy with the result, obviously. Anytime you can score two goals and get a clean sheet on the road, we’re certainly happy with it. The guys just worked and ground this one out today.”
On Sept. 2, the Bears engaged in a hard fought battle for 110 minutes to earn a 2-2 result against Hartwick and eventually win the Hotels at Grand Prairie Classic Tournament title on Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium.
Mercer finished the tournament with 1-0-1 record for the event. Junior Ryan King was named Tournament MVP, while seniors Joey Heavner and Will Betts and sophomore Ashani Samuels were also voted onto the All-Tournament team.
According to Ryan King, Tournament MVP, “tournament games have more energy to them. We always try to win, obviously, but there was a sense of urgency that was lacking in the first weekend [of our season], and in the tournament that urgency came back. We had to win. [Winning} is
always in our minds, but this time we had something to prove and we all wanted this championship.”
Will Betts, voted onto the All-Tournament team added, “A tournament always adds some extra incentive because you have a tangible reward on the line and [the tangible reward] helps you keep the two games in perspective. We were able to use it as a motivator to give us the urgency and focus that we needed to get two results.”
In response to the individual recognition that members of the team were awarded, King said, “I didn’t even know there were awards for tournament MVP. All I wanted was to win and I did whatever I could to make that a reality.” Betts commented, “We had 11 guys on the field at any given time that turned in all-tournament performances. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to tuck two goals away, but as long as we’re getting goals and keeping the ball out of our net, it makes no difference to any of us who it is that’s scoring.”
In an interview after the Hartwick game, Ruzzo commented on Mercer’s performance throughout the tournament. Ruzzo said, “I think at this point we’re satisfied. We wanted to come [out of the tournament] 2-0….We go home 1-0-1 and we learned some lessons but we did it without losing this weekend.” However, “I felt we let the [Hartwick] game slip away from us a little bit in the beginning of the second half, but if you look at the box score, I think we had 8 shots in overtime. I felt we were the aggressive team trying to go for the win,” says Ruzzo.
Just over a minute into the Hartwick match, Mercer struck first courtesy of another well placed set piece. Freshman Juan Jose Morales fired the corner kick set piece into the mixer where senior Will Betts redirected the ball past Hartwick goalkeeper and into the back of the net to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
The Bears had a quality chance in the 42nd minute when senior Richie Edmondson sent in a cross that freshman David Murtaugh headed just over the bar to keep the score 1-0 in favor of Mercer.
Hartwick redeemed themselves at the start of the second half with a counter attack goal in the 56th minute to tie the game at 1-1.
The Hawks took advantage of the momentum generated by their recent goal and scored another goal in the 65th minute to give Hartwick a 2-1 lead.
Wasting no time, the Bears used a shot from Heavner that deflected off a Hartwick defender into the back of the net in the 71st minute to tie the game back up at 2-2.
Ruzzo commented that the Bears walked into the game wanting to “make sure we were the aggressive team. That we were going after [the ball] and not on our heels. We did that, I felt, through the entire first half and I just felt like we got a little complacent in the first 20 minutes of the second half where [Hartwick] ended up scoring their two goals. After they scored their second goal and were up 2-1, I felt like we took over the game a little bit then really pushed and got our second goal. So it was certainly a plan of ours to try and go after it today.”
At the 90th minute of game play, the score remained at 2-2. The game went into overtime where neither team was able to secure a definitive win.
Ruzzo, after the game, said, “We had a lot of chances. It’s just hard to score three goals in a college soccer game, so it was unfortunate, a bit, for us to not get the third goal, the winning goal. But I’m proud of our team for fighting back, for playing the Hartwick team, which I think is a pretty good team, well-organized.”
When asked how the Mercer men’s soccer team was planning on utilizing the momentum of the first successful weekend in future games. King said, “This success obviously gave us a lot to build upon in terms of momentum. Now that we have momentum, we are playing with a confidence about us that says we truly believe we are going to beat whoever we play. Whenever offense falters, great teams have a way of manufacturing goals. In our case, when our offense falters, we have set pieces that helped us win giving us 3 goals in two games.”
Betts added, “We got a great glimpse of what it takes to win games. Great team defending and taking care of our chances in front of the goal are imperative to our success year in and year out. We’re looking to build on doing things the right way to ensure results from our remaining games.”
Coming out of a successful tournament the previous weekend, the Mercer men’s soccer team exploded offensively to secure a 4-0 victory over Presbyterian in its 2012 home opener on Saturday evening at Bear Field.
In the 9th minute of play, Mercer scored the first goal of the game. Multiple players were involved in the effort.
Senior Joey Heavner played a well placed ball to Richie Edmondson who made a great run into the box and set up the final ball to senior Sharpe Sablon who slid the ball past Presbyterian goalkeeper to make the score 1-0.
In the post-game interview, Ruzzo said, “[Sharpe Sablon] has been a kid that’s been with us from day one and bought into this program. He probably hasn’t gotten the minutes he’s wanted, through his three years, but now he’s become a quality player for us and he’s started here in the last six games. I’m happy he got our first goal for us.”
The Orange and Black kept the game moving and doubled their advantage in the 30th minute thanks to a set piece. Senior Josh Shutter took the free kick from about 30 yards away and pummeled the ball into the upper left hand corner of the goal to take a 2-0 lead.
Commenting on the progression of the game, Ruzzo said, “the guys were resilient tonight and trying, after that first goal, to get that second goal. At half time, we really talked about getting that third goal within the first 15, 20 minutes so we could put the game out of reach.”
Mercer came out of halftime fired up, and dominated play for the remainder of the game. Both Will Betts and David Murtaugh scored goals to insure the game was out of reach for Presbyterian.
After the game, Ruzzo commented, “I felt that we deserved this win. Certainly we had some sloppy moments, but the guys were resilient. I think [our perormance] came down to working hard, and being fresh. We had six days to prepare for this game and certainly we were trained hard but then we tailed off about Thursday and Friday [leading up to game day] to be fresh and ready to go.”
Leading into the Mercer versus Georgia Southern game, Head Coach Ruzzo anticipated this to be a difficult game. “Georgia Southern doesn’t have lights on their facility so it’s going to be at 4 p.m. so heat will be a factor, I’m sure.” The goal for the Bears, going into the game, was to “recover, rejuvenate, get our bodies and our legs underneath us and go. It’s always a one goal game with Georgia Southern. It’s an instate rival and there will be a quality side.”
As Ruzzo predicted, the Mercer men’s soccer team secured it’s fourth result in a row with a well-deserved 1-0 shutout victory over Georgia Southern on Monday afternoon at Eagle Field.
Both teams were evenly matched and prevented each other from generating much effort offensively throughout most of the first half.
The best chance of the half for Mercer came in the 27th minute. Sophomore Ashani Samuels headed a corner kick service on the net. The ball was almost immediately corralled by Georgia Southern goalkeeper to keep the score tied at 0-0 going into halftime.
Georgia Southern had the first promising chance of the game at the start of the second half.
The Eagles fired a shot from about 35 yards away. Mercer goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh made a diving save to keep the contest nulled in the 50th minute.
Mercer continued to dominate offensively with frequent forward runs. In the 78th minute, these forward runs paid off. Sophomore Carl-Oscar Andersson collected a stray ball and played a cross into the box. Senior Richie Edmondson was ready and waiting. Edmondson headed the ball into the back of the net to give the Bears a 1-0 lead.
Mercer goalkeeper, Ranjitsingh maintained the 1-0 lead for Mercer by making a season-high of six saves to achieve his 10th career shutout.
Mercer returns home and looks to continue their winning streak this Sunday when it welcomes in-state rival Georgia State into town. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bear Field.