The expectations set after the University of Nebraska at Omaha men’s soccer team beat their ranked opponent a couple of weeks ago, and pushed themselves into the national college soccer, were perhaps a bit too hasty.
Not completely incorrect, nor even mostly incorrect, but surely a bit of a rush.
The Mavs were only two games into the regular season, and prediction of a trend with only three games to go on would be flawed by any metric. But national rankings are not the only things that are important to a sports fan. There’s also nail-biting, heart-pounding, skin-of-the teeth battles that are as heartbreaking as they are exciting. And Saturday’s match against Bradley was all of that.
The Bradley Braves did their best to confound a UNO team that looked to dominate nearly every aspect of play, and, for the most part, succeeded for 110 minutes.
After a fairly uneventful first 30 minutes, senior Logan Mendez opened the scoring with a cheeky chip over the goalkeeper from the corner of the box, pushing the
Mavericks out in front, and giving the crowd a boost after 27 minutes of scoreless play. Mendez, who has been a stalwart player for the Mavericks ever since he started with the program in its first year, would go on to play 101 minutes in total.
Just before the half-time whistle, however, Bradley struck back. The Braves’ Austin Bell took a shot from near the penalty area and beat Mav goalie Josh Christensen in the 40th minute. While a disappointment,
the goal didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The team had come back well the previous weekend against DePaul, and it seemed probable that they’d make up the goal before too long against Bradley.
There were other things in the cards before then for the Mavericks, however. Five short minutes after the start of the second half, Mav keeper Josh Christensen made a massive error to give up the second goal.
Receiving a back pass from a defender, Christensen froze as a Bradley attacker pressed him. He made an attempt to feint, and then finally tried to clear the ball, but it deflected cleanly off of the feet of the oncoming attacker and bounced into the back of the net to put Bradley ahead of the Mavs, 2-1.
A long, uneasy period followed. The Mavericks continued to dominate in almost every way, with a night. But they struggled to finish, either missing the goal completely or kicking it right into the arms of the Bradley keeper, Logan Ketterer, who recorded 10 saves on the night.
The Mavs pushed on ineffectually until the 87th minute, when redshirt freshman Noor Hamadi took advantage of a Mark Moulton pass to slot in his third goal of the season. Logan Mendez, who created the chance for Moulton, was also credited with the assist, and Hamadi’s equalizer sent the Mavs into overtime.
The first overtime was more of the same, a dominant Maverick performance that struggled to find a finished product. Players began to hit the floor more often, showing their exhaustion.
The Bradley head coach, Jim DeRose, was given a red card and sent packing from the stadium by the referee after becoming livid at a call just over two minutes into the first overtime period, and persisting in haranguing the official. But even with that disturbance, the scoreline remained locked at 2-2, and the teams went into the second period of overtime.
The teams went back and forth in the second period, both exhausted, with many players having played over 100 minutes at this point. Things began to look desperate for the Mavs as the minutes ticked away. Mounting a final attack, the Mavericks advanced quickly downfield in the last half-minute, and with seconds draining away, won a corner at the other end. Logan Mendez rushed to take the corner, but by the time he was able to kick the ball, there were a paltry five seconds left in the game.
As the ball soared towards the box, the last few seconds drained away, but before the seconds hit zero, Maverick centerback Felipe da Silva rose out of the air and deflected the ball into the net to win the game in the absolute last seconds of time. The ultimate triumph capped off a record setting night. First, it was a career day for Logan Mendez, who scored the first goal and recorded assists on both subsequent goals, and played 101 minutes.
This was the third game in Mendez’s career in which he notched two assists.
The night also saw the Mavericks extend their home-game winning streak to 11 games, having won every single home game since Aug. 31 of last year. And oddly enough, the only other overtime victory the Mavs can boast of was also against Bradley.
It seems that, 37 shots and 13 corners to Bradley’s 0 corners aside, Bradley somehow had it in them to drag the most out of the Mavs over the longest period of time possible. It’s a credit to the willpower of the team that they were capable of keeping their focus and pounding out the win.
Saturday’s win may not be as glamourous or exciting on paper as those earned earlier in the season. But for those in the stadium on the chilly weekend evening, the feeling of victory as Felipe da Silva guided in the winning shot as the very last grains of playtime drained from the clock is one feeling that will last longer than a national ranking.