Men’s Soccer 9/20/19 Update from the Soccer Yoda
It’s a common expression that a good referee is almost invisible during a game. Calls are correct, the game isn’t overly interrupted, any game changing calls are so blatant as to be obvious, so the ref seems to have no choice in making the call.
That wasn’t the case when UNLV took the field against the #2 nationally ranked St Mary’s. The Rebels had suffered through a hard luck season, as it was, entering this match. Two overtime losses to start the season, a magnificent comeback that fell short, four losses all by a single goal. And more problems coming into this already difficult match-up. Both starting center backs were out, Billy Jones was representing New Zealand in the Olympic qualifiers and Nick Willliams had to sit out due to an ill-advised second yellow card received during the narrow loss to San Francisco.
Nevertheless, during the majority of the match a neutral observer would have had a difficult time picking out the 5-0 side from the 2-4 team.
The game started slowly as neither team established any superiority. Possession was hard to gain and long balls gained little advantage when they were attempted. The one factor which did have some impact in the first 20 minutes of the contest was St Mary’s use of their 4-2-3-1 to bring heavy numbers into the attacking third and their ability to find those players in a composed fashion when close to goal. Only Lukas Betz’s quickness and UNLV’s determination to defend prevent a score by the Gaels. However, as the half wore on, meaningful attacks by St Mary’s became few in number and the last 15 minutes, they were limited to only 2 ventures near the Rebels goal. One produced a harmless corner and although the other, in the 43rd minute, involved a nifty flick over Rebel defenders, Betz was quick to gobble it up before it became a threat to the goal. Meanwhile UNLV found some success down the right with Timo Mehlich delivering a dangerous cross in the 18th minute and John Lynam coming close off a scramble in front of the St Mary’s goal 10 minutes later. The scoreless half ended with UNLV enjoying 60% possession and looking every bit the equal of the highly considered visitors.
The second half started much like the first but that all changed at the 50 minute mark. As the Gaels moved into Rebel territory, they attempted a through ball to CF Joseph Restani. The pass got past UNLV defender Tyler Allen and Restani appeared to have a chance at gaining possession. Allen pressured Restani closely from behind and the Gael smartly stopped his run causing Allen to tumble over him. Both players went down just outside the Rebel penalty area and the referee amazing went for his red card. Allen was ejected (which also causes him to miss the next game) and most observers weren’t sure it was even a foul, much less a straight red card. Betz made a nice save on the ensuing direct kick but the card left the UNLV defense unsettled given the absence of their starting center backs to begin with. Although the direct kick was saved and cleared, the ball went to the Gael’s Sebastian Schacht who found an unmarked Younes Dayehk on the Rebel’s right (where Allen would have been) and he fired a missile into the near upper corner of the net.
The goal changed the game completely. The Rebels needed to push more offense forward to get the equalizer and St Mary’s settled back to protect the lead and look for counters. Add that to the makeshift defense that UNLV had to scramble together to replace the already makeshift defense required for this contest in the first place ( which had actually been performing excellently) and the second goal was no surprise. Restani scored from a short distance at 69 minutes and the match was settled. The Rebels did mount a dangerous offensive thrust late in the game but Gaels keeper Jakub Svehlik tipped the ball over the bar and the outcome was settled. If luck evens out eventually, UNLV is due for a terrific run. This squad is better than their record and the first 50 minutes of this match showed it. If St Mary’s is the second best team in the country, then the Rebels aren’t far behind. They just need to match the quality they displayed in the first half of this match, play smart, avoid unneeded fouls and take the chances they will undoubtedly produce. The season is a long way from over.