In its opening Horizon League conference match, the Belmont men’s soccer team was unable to come back from an early two-goal deficit and ultimately fell to Valparaiso 2-1 at E.S. Rose Park Friday night.
The Crusaders maintained a strong defense the entirety of the game and only allowed the Bruins a single shot in the first half.
“They’re very good on the ball. They defend in a very organized way,” said Belmont coach Bryan Green.
After maintaining strong possession for the beginning of the first half, Zev Taublieb capitalized off a rebound and gave the Crusaders an early 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.
The Bruins tried to attack by sending deep passes to forwards, but the Valpo defense stayed strong and headed the attempts away.
Valparaiso passed the ball around its backline for most of the first half and played a keep away game from the Bruins, rarely looking to go forward.
In the 30th minute, Jacob Gandarilla cut through two Belmont defenders and hit a powerful strike past true freshman Wes Luvisi to extend the Crusaders’ lead 2-0.
“We had to go and pressure them a little more and go and get the ball a little bit more. They were very patient sitting with a 2-0 lead and very comfortable on the ball,” said Green.
The Bruins came out of the locker room with vengeance and tested the keeper early on in the second half by generating attacking opportunities that created quality shots and crosses.
Belmont earned its first of many dangerous free kicks in the 48th minute, taken by Adriano Balani. The midfielder perfectly crossed the ball into the box where sophomore AJ Arnold created a shot but was picked up by Nico Campbell.
“We had a little higher level of energy and a little bit more motivation. I think we did a better job of getting numbers forward,” said Green.
The goal finally came for the Bruins in the 60th minute off a perfectly chipped ball by senior Diego Figueroa, who sent it right over the keeper and into the Valpo net. Campbell did everything he could to save the shot, but it was unreachable.
“I noticed the keeper was out a bit, so I knew once I got the chance I would try and chip him. I thought it was going to go over at first but then I saw it hit the net,” said Figueroa.
Valpo changed its patient approach and started to attack more to ensure the win, but the great defense from the Bruins kept its press at bay.
Another close-range free kick came for Belmont in the 73rd minute. The dangerous cross from Balani kept the Crusaders’ defense on their heels, but Campbell caught the attempt.
Belmont had a final chance to tie it up after great play from Arnold in the 87th minute, but the dominant Valpo keeper came up with the grab.
The Crusaders’ possession game came back strong in the final minutes of the game to close out the match and the win.
“From what I hear it’s a very good league, and Valpo will be in the mix for the top. Hopefully we can keep competing like we did tonight so we’re in the mix as well,” said Green.
Belmont travels on Wednesday to face Wright State in Dayton, Ohio. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.