The NCAA only gives Division 1 soccer teams two weeks to prepare for a new season and this generally produces exciting, if not purist-quality, matches in the early weeks of a new campaign. Games tend to be close and decided by bounces and errors rather than by the exceptional play that can come later in the season as teams begin to jell. For squads with a number of new players it can be even tougher as cohesion is difficult to master while players still learning teammates names.
So, with 13 new players on a 26 man side and a new defensive addition, Billy Jones, missing this game while playing for New Zealand’s Olympic team, UNLV has been at the bottom of the new team-early-season-hill-to-climb. Despite excellent efforts in its first two matches, the unsettled nature of the team and some hard luck has combined to hand the Rebels two heartbreaking losses to start the 2019 season.
San Diego State came into Johann Stadium having suffered a first match defeat after blowing two leads against San Diego University while the Rebels were still smarting from the overtime loss to UC Santa Barbara. As the game began the Aztecs hit a number of long balls to test the Rebel defense and that produced little threat. Actually the most meaningful event of the first couple of minutes was an injury to Rebel midfielder Nico Clasen. Although he continued to play for the rest of the contest, the strain to his back bothered him throughout. The first scoring threats came from set plays as UNLV and San Diego St both hit the crossbar from long efforts after restarts. The Rebels found success in maintaining possession in deeper areas and sending accurate long passes to their wings on the run, particularly on the left through Marco Gonzales. Marco hit a running shot at SDSU goal keeper Max Watkin and two minutes later drew defenders to himelf and then found Timo Mehlich who forced Watkin into a terrific save. The ensuing corner kick, taken by Clasen went to Nick Williams who headed strongly into the net at 16:47 and UNLV had the lead.
The attacks continued and Gonzales, after receiving an excellent diagonal ball from Mehlich, again threatened the Aztec goal, going just wide. San Diego was reduced to long hopeful passes, but at 22:15 UNLV defender Chilo Sanchez was called for a very soft penalty. This was particularly exasperating as there was nobody in a threatening area near the Rebel goal, the foul was questionable and the placement of the foul inside the penalty area was iffy in itself. However UNLV goal keeper Enrique Adame continued his streak of scaring the daylights out of opposing penalty takers, as for the second consecutive game an opposition penalty kick was missed without Enrique touching the ball. This time it was Pablo Pelaez who failed to convert as he fired off the crossbar. This signaled a change in the game however. In the next ten minutes Jake Mecham headed a ball off the UNLV goal line, Palaez again found the UNLV crossbar, this time from 25 yds and the Rebels pulled back to protect the lead. Despite gaining a major portion of possession, San Diego used it to force direct passes ahead of their forwards and the Rebel defense had no trouble picking off those efforts. Actually, despite the overwhelming possession time held by the Aztecs, the most eventful attack of the late first half came when UNLV defender James Drye hit an accurate longball down the Rebel left to Gonzales who was barely wide with his try at goal.
As the half ended, the lack of possession by the home side was troubling and the beginning of the second half was no different. San Diego dominated the ball and it took 6 minutes for UNLV to mount any real penetration into the Aztec half. However, the Rebel defense was still proving to be an impenetrable wall to SDSU attacks. In the 59th minute that changed. Coming down their left, Palaez made up for his missed PK when he spotted an unmarked Hunter George square across the right who shot into the lower far corner to tie the game.
UNLV responded by going on the offense and they produced a couple of corners. One of the longer passes was intercepted however, and quick work by San Diego put Tevenn Roux into space on the rebel right. He evaded two defenders and beat Adame to pit SDSU ahead. At this point Jones’ absence was looking like an issue.
The Rebels were quick to respond, Hayden Prasad , UNLV freshman forward, was making an impression on the Aztec left defense and forced a foul deep on the Rebel right wing. Nico hit a twisting free kick that wound its way through the penalty area and into the goal. UNLV 2 – SDSU 2.
As the match neared the 90 minute mark both teams opened up their offenses in attempts to get the winner, but, despite a couple Rebel crosses, regular time ended without shots at either goal.
So, UNLV entered into its second overtime game in 4 days. Again, both teams went for the golden goal and the play was end-to-end. San Diego shot at 1:17; UNLV earned a corner at 2:10 through Marco and Timo pairing up. Gonzales came off the UNLV left into the center of the field and almost weaved through a number of Aztec defenders. San Diego got a corner for itself at 5:34. Finally, in the seventh minute, San Diego gained the ball on its right and a quick couple of passes found George in front of goal. He hit an excellent turning shot and that was the match.
Overall, UNLV did a better job of preventing turnovers than in their first game and produced a number of effective attacks. However, the lack of possession during the middle of the contest gave San Diego St a chance to get itself back into the game and eventually they solved the Rebel defense. When the game turned into an up-and-down affair, the first great play or major defensive error was going to decide the winner and SDSU made the play.
The Rebels are on the road for the the next two weeks and will get a number of opportunities to get that first victory and come home with a winning record.