The Point Park men’s soccer team came up just short against one of the top teams in NAIA — conference foe and third-ranked Rio Grande — losing 3-2 in game that went to overtime at Highmark Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“We showed a lot of heart today. We wanted it more than they did,” Jeroen Walstra, Point Park’s head coach made the point of saluting his players’ effort. “We should have won. But I thought it was a bad game today, a lot of balls were played in the air, and it wasn’t fun to watch until later in the second half.”
That heart Walstra was referring too came in the form of Point Park’s ability to battle back each time they conceded a goal against a team they’re fighting for positioning in the River States conference playoff tournament, in a match between two teams that had players representing 16 different countries on each respective roster.
Rio Grande took the lead in the 26th minute, when junior Harry Rielly, from Coventry, England, was able to find a seam through the middle of the Pioneers back line, and enough room to send a strike past Pioneers keeper and Venezuelan native Juan Somoza.
Trailing by a goal at the half, the Pioneers, despite being out shot, were playing on level terms with Rio Grande, kept pressing forward.
Finally, in the 60th minute, Point Park showed it’s ability to strike quickly, with room to maneuver on the right side sophomore midfielder Wessel Rietveld delivered a pinpoint pass into the box for Alen Ramos, who drilled a shot into the back of the net.
It didn’t take long for Rio Grande to respond, as the Red Storm’s Jorge Guinovart lined up a shot toward the middle of goal area, but the ball deflected — and spiraled toward the left side of goal, leaving Somoza frozen in the middle of the goal.
Despite continuing to be under attack by wave, after wave of counter attacks, the Pioneers’ back line, and in particular, its outside backs were constantly dealing with a lot of pressure from both sides of the width.
“Those guys were exhausted,” Walstra said, of his outside backs. “We played a tough game on Friday night (a 3-2 loss to WVU Tech), and they were difficult to handle.”
Fortunately, the Pioneers were hung on throughout the match, thanks primarily to an outstanding performance by Somoza, who made 15 saves in the match.
Then, in the 81st minute, they caught a bit of a break.
As a ball was played into the box, and subsequently, a collision ensued between Hounds forward and Rio Grande goalkeeper, the officials needed a minute to confer after the whistle blew, deciding to award the Pioneers a penalty kick, after it was confirmed that Rio Grande was called for a handball in the box.
This set up a penalty kick chance for Roberto Whitley, a sophomore from Liverpool, England, who, much like another Liverpool native did many times on the same field, Rob Vincent for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, sliced a blazing, low kick into the net for the equalizer.
In the overtime period, Rio Grande continued it’s pressure, and eventually broke through in the 107th minute. After some nice build-up into the box, then some one-touch passing between Rielly and Deri Corfe that ended up on the foot of Omar Wolcott by the right post. Wolcott was too quick for Somoza who got into position, but the a shot flew under the Point Park keeper’s legs for the game winner.
Point Park (5-3 RSC) is now 2.0 games back of first-place Rio Grande (6-0-1 RSC) in the RSC standings with WVU Tech (5-1-1 RSC) and Asbury (Ky.) (5-1-1 RSC) in between. In fourth place with one game left next Saturday at Carlow (1:30 p.m.), the Pioneers after currently in position to host a first-round playoff game, but they would need some help to move up to one of the top two spots and get a first-round bye.
Walstra, who is the longest tenured, and winningest coach in school history, guiding Point Park to two straight conference tournament championships in 2012 and 2013, was disappointed with the result, but believes his squad still has a chance to make a strong run in the RSC playoff tournament.
“We should be fine,” Walstra said, after the loss dropped the Pioneers to 4th place in a conference that is getting tougher with each year. “We have a good conference. Even the teams that are historically bad, are much, much better than they used to be, and it’s all because the teams are focused on getting more international players. We’ll have to play three games to get through to the finals, so we have work to do.”