AMHERST, MA — The Amherst College men's soccer team (15-0-2) remained undefeated on the season as they denied the Ephs their chance at revenge for both the double overtime loss earlier this season and the defeat in last year's NESCAC championship finals. The Lord Jeffs scored just after the start of the second half through senior Max Fikke, and that lone goal proved to be enough to see the Jeffs through to lift their third NESCAC championship trophy in as many years.
Fikke's goal came less than four minutes after the restart, when sophomore Mohammed Rashid conceded a foul on the right wing of the Jeffs' attack. The free kick was taken by sophomore Nico Pascual-Leone, who sent an in-swinging ball to the back post, where Eph senior keeper Peter Morrell was able to punch the ball away. However, his punch did not send the ball out of the penalty area, and some confusion arose when Morrell came off his line to retrieve the punch. Morrell was unable to secure the ball before senior Brendan Caslin headed the ball to the left side of the box to junior Gabriel Wirz. Wirz's ensuing shot on an open net was only saved by the sliding clearance of junior defender Luke Pierce, but the deflection fell very kindly to Fikke, who was able to nod the ball past the recovering Morrell for the only goal of the game.
During the first half, neither team really was able to create a volume of chances, but Amherst had the better spells of possession.
The Jeffs were able to create a good look early when they won their only corner of the game in the 3rd minute. Pascual-Leone swung the ball into the center of the area, where Singer was able to connect his head with the ball. His header looked as if it might sneak under the crossbar but ended up caroming off of it into the path of an Eph defender who cleared the ball out of danger.
When the dust settled after the corner, the Ephs were forced into an early substitution because sophomore Troy Ritter pulled up with an injury that would keep him off the field for the rest of the game. Junior Chris Conder replaced Ritter in defensive midfield and put in a very strong showing.
The Ephs created their best chance of the half only a few minutes later off of a counter attack. Senior Matt Kastner, who was the driving force behind a majority of the Ephs' offensive forays today, possessed the ball at the top of the Jeffs' penalty area and flicked a beautiful ball over the head of his defender into the path of Rashid on the left side, who was able to dribble around the on-rushing sophomore keeper Thomas Bull, but he left himself with an impossible angle, resulting in his shot being cleared by freshman defender Justin Aoyama rather calmly.
The rest of the first half passed with only one other good opportunity for the Jeffs with just over three minutes before halftime. It was a dangerous moment for the Ephs, as it appeared that freshman Patrick Gordon had been fouled on the left side of the Ephs' defense, but the ref's whistle remained silent, allowing for Jeff freshman Christopher Martin to streak past a relatively unaware Eph back-line before sending in a low cross that Morrell was only just able to dive on in time before freshman Elliot Cassutt could pounce on the loose ball.
Amherst's goal came on their first opportunity in the second half, leaving the Ephs no choice but to find a goal of their own.
As Williams pressed higher up the field for an equalizer, it forced Amherst into a more physical style of play, which became apparent almost immediately.
In the 56th minute it seemed that the Ephs might have a chance to draw even by way of a penalty, when Kastner's legs appeared to be swiped out from under him by Wirz as he was taking a shot, but play continued as the ref's whistle stayed silent.
Six minutes later, the Ephs had their first real chance to level the score when Rashid was fouled on the left side of the Ephs' attack. Rashid restarted the play quickly with a pass down the left wing to junior Matt Muralles, whose cross managed to drift over everyone's head. Junior Chris Seitz did well to knock the ball out off of a Jeff defender and sent a long throw-in into the penalty area where Kastner was able to flick a header across the face of Bull's goal to the opposite post where Rashid was lurking all by himeslf, but Rashid could not keep his header down, floating it over the crossbar.
The Ephs best chance at an equalizer came in the 69th minute after a beautiful exchange of passes around the Jeffs' penalty area. Freshman Malcolm Moutenot maintained possession of the ball in the left corner very well after a challenge and proceeded to play a perfect pass between two defenders to Rashid, in front of Bull's goal. Instead of trying to round his own defender and fire an off-balance shot, Rashid smartly laid the ball off to the open Dan Lima, whose right-footed curling shot toward the upper-right corner was saved spectacularly by Bull, managing to get a finger to the ball and tipping it over the crossbar.
The Jeffs had their best chance to double their lead only three minutes later, when Seitz was forced to make a professional foul just outside the left side of his own penalty area. Pascual-Leone lined up to take the 20-yard free kick, but his low screamer only managed to fizz wide-right of Morrell's goal.
With fifteen minutes remaining, the Ephs changed their formation to improve their attacking numbers, moving sophomore Geoff Danilack up into the midfield and placing fellow sophomore Jonathan Westling up next to Kastner at the forward position.
It took mere moments for this new formation to affect the flow of play, as the Ephs created a decent chance by way of the industrious Kastner down the left side. Kastner outmuscled his defender to win the ball and poked a pass to Danilack farther up the left sideline. Danilack then centered the ball to Muralles at the top of the penalty area, who sent a bullet toward Bull's goal, but Wirz was there to block the shot, deflecting it out of danger. Moutenot was able to run the deflection down before it rolled over the byline and sent a very nice looking cross onto the back post, but the ball was just out of the reach of Westling's head.
As time quickly slipped away for the Ephs, they were only able to lob a few balls into the box from set pieces or crosses that never really looked to cause much danger around Bull's goal.
The Jeffs clinched their victory with timely clearances and intelligent possession toward the end, bleeding away any remaining time.
After the game, Coach Russo praised the resiliency of his team to not give up after going down a goal early in the second half: "We played with a lot of heart and conviction. We are disappointed of course, but they are very tough to play against because they are very athletic and very physical. They press very well defensively, and it's hard to play the way we want to play. Having said that, we had a couple chances, but they did very well to prevent us from scoring."
The Ephs were outshot by the Jeffs by a margin of 10 to 7, with 2 shots on goal to the Ephs' 1. Williams had 2 corners to the Jeffs' 1, and only 9 fouls to the Jeffs' 12. Morrell and Bull each had a single save on the day.
The Ephs await the NCAA committee's decision tomorrow on whether they will receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.