On a cold, wet Saturday night at Korte Stadium, 2,375 fans were treated to an exciting men’s soccer match, as SIUE defeated Central Arkansas 2-1 in overtime on homecoming night, improving the team’s overall record to 5-5.
Head Coach Kevin Kalish said he expected the game to be a battle and was pleased with the team’s performance in its first Missouri Valley Conference game of the year.
“It was a quality performance from the team,” Kalish said. “We controlled the majority of the first 45 minutes. I felt like we had Central Arkansas on their back foot. Like in any conference match, Central Arkansas came out and had moments in the second half where they took it to us and found an equalizer. It showed a lot of character from our guys to find a winner.”
In the first half, the Cougars (5-5 overall, 1-0 MVC) dominated possession, taking 10 shots to Central Arkansas’ two. Despite all of the Cougars’ shots, it looked as if the teams would go into the locker room tied at the half.
Then, in the 44th minute of play, the Cougars took a corner kick from the left side of the field that found sophomore midfielder Gabe Christianson on the right side of the field, outside the 18-yard box.
Christianson swung in a high cross that found freshman defenseman Andrew Kendall-Moullin, who headed the ball into the upper right side of the goal past the diving Central Arkansas goalkeeper, giving the Cougars a 1-0 lead just before halftime.
The game changed in the second half for the Cougars, who could only muster up one shot in the entire half. More disappointing for the Cougars was when, in the 66th minute, a charging Central Arkansas (4-6 overall, 0-1 MVC) player broke through the Cougar defense and beat senior goalkeeper John Berner to tie the game at 1-1, a score that remained after 90 minutes.
Junior forward Lewis Ellis said that before the start of overtime, the coaches told the players to really push themselves.
“[They told us to] get back out there and work hard,” Ellis said. “We took our feet off the gas the last 15 minutes. We just needed to win first and second balls and then the rest of our footwork will be taken care of. ”
Less than two minutes into the overtime period, Ellis turned those words into action. Sophomore defenseman Justin Bilyeu collected a ball on the left side of the field, just outside of the 18-yard box, and sent in a low, hard cross to the near post.
Ellis snuck in front of the Central Arkansas defenders and got his head on the ball, deflecting it into the top of the goal and securing a victory for the Cougars. Ellis, still amped from scoring the game-winning goal, had a tough time expressing his emotions about the goal.
“I can’t even describe it. I’m happy and there’s joy. It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Ellis said.
With the victory, the Cougars ended a three-game losing streak, which included a goalless doldrum dating back to Sept. 17. Kalish said the game signified a growing assurance within the team.
“From our perspective, it’s about growing in confidence as a group and doing the little things correctly in order to win games at this level,” Kalish said. “I think it wasn’t a perfect performance, but I definitely think the guys took a step in the right direction and we got the result. It’s like anything. With goals, they come with confidence and belief, and it was good to see us get two tonight and hopefully we continue that.”
The Cougars’ next game is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 at Northwestern. The Cougars do not return to Korte Stadium until Oct. 26, when they faceoff against Loyola.