Senior goalkeeper John Berner, last season’s Missouri Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the Year, collected his fourth shutout of the season Saturday when the SIUE men’s soccer team defeated Evansville (10-6-1 overall, 2-3 MVC) 1-0.
Berner and fellow senior, midfielder Joe Sales, played in their final game at Korte Stadium of the season and their career.
Berner, who has been with the SIUE (6-8-2 overall, 2-3 MVC) program for five years and has seen the team transition into Division-I soccer, said he will never forget the experiences he has had at SIUE and with the soccer team.
“There are too many memories,” Berner said. “The memories on the field and in the locker room, there are just too many to even specify. It’s been an amazing experience. I’m glad I could go out like this.”
Head Coach Kevin Kalish said both players have impacted the team, each in their own way, and will be greatly missed by their teammates and coaches.
“[Berner’s] been a big part of our culture not only with winning games, but he’s a fantastic student athlete that represents the university and the men’s soccer program in a first-class way,” Kalish said. “We’re definitely going to miss him.”
“Joe Sales transferred in as a sophomore,” Kalish said. “He’s been one of those guys in the clubhouse that can always lighten the mood. He came in tonight and played some significant minutes and has always answered the bell when we needed him to.”
Before the game, both Berner and Sales were congratulated on the field by SIUE soccer alums for all the hard work they had put into the team.
The current SIUE players honored Berner and Sales during the game by putting together one of their strongest performances of the season against a tough Evansville team that was coming in with two consecutive shutouts.
Although SIUE got the first shot of the game in the 1st minute, it was Evansville who almost scored in the opening minutes of the game. Evansville forward Nate Opperman broke through the Cougar’s defense and went one-on-one with Berner. Berner sprinted off of his line to meet Opperman and the ball inside the penalty box and slid out to prevent the goal.
SIUE’s best chance to score in the first 45 minutes occurred late in the half. In the 36th minute, junior forward Lewis Ellis hit a bouncing through ball to junior forward Christian Volesky, who got behind the Evansville defense to take on the goalkeeper one-on-one.
He was able to get his foot onto the pass, but booted the ball wide of the goal. SIUE finished the half with five shots, while allowing Evansville to take four shots.
After a balanced first half, the Cougars dominated the entire second half, taking eight shots and not allowing Evansville any shots. In the 76th minute, Ellis got the ball on the left side of the penalty box and kicked a pass along the ground into a crowd of players.
Sophomore midfielder Gabe Christianson was the first person to the ball and took a close-range shot that found the back of the net and gave the Cougars the lead, and eventually the victory.
The goal broke a three-game scoreless streak for the Cougars, and the victory was the first in five games for SIUE. Kalish said while the players have been playing well, they just could not find a goal in previous games. He hopes the goal and victory are signs of things to come.
“I believe we are a very good attacking team,” Kalish said. “At the moment, we’ve gone through a little bit of a stretch where we’ve lacked belief and confidence in the final third. I thought we created a number of good chances tonight, and it was good to finish one. Moving forward, I think we’re a dangerous team when we’re clicking on all cylinders. I think you are going to see us score some goals here late in the year.”
The Cougars had to hold a one-goal lead for the last 15 minutes of the game, a task that can break the nerves of some players. Kalish said the players handled the situation well and expects them to handle the situation in the same way should it arise again.
“If you’re going to win in the postseason, you’ve got to be able to manage those minutes and our guys did very well,” Kalish said. “They did what they needed to do to get the result. End of story, they got the win.”
The men’s soccer team will play their last regular season game at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at Missouri State. The Cougars will start play in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament the week after.