WESTFIELD, MA — Mohammed Rashid made quite an entrance, one that allowed Mike Russo to reach quite a milestone.
First-year striker Rashid scored two second-half goals Wednesday, lifting the Williams College men's soccer team to a 2-1 come-from-behind road win over Westfield State in its season opener. It also gave Russo — in the first game of his 34th season at the helm of the Ephs' program — his 400th career victory.
"I didn't know that," Russo said of his accomplishment. "Thank you for telling me, but you know me, it's about the boys, not about me."
Russo is now 400-101-54 (.769 winning pecentage) in his tenure. The Ephs have posted 29 consecutive winning seasons. In 27 of those 33 campaigns Russo's booters have won at least 10 games in a regular season that contains but 14 contests.
Russo is the first collegiate coach on any level to win back-to-back National Coach of the Year honors accomplishing the feat in 1987 and 1988, before his Ephs were allowed to participate in NCAA postseason tournaments. Russo has been named the national Div. III Coach of the Year four times, garnering the honor again in 1993 and 1995.
After a first half that saw Williams outshoot the Owls but fall behind 1-0, the Ephs picked up their play on the turf.
"In the first half we overpossessed the ball instead of going forward," Russo said. "In the second half our transition game was a bit better, we were able to play more quickly, which is what you have to do on a turf field."
The Ephs gained the equalizer in the 58th minute when Chris Seitz was able to control a ball in the right corner and work the ball into the box. Rashid, making a nice post run onto the ball, flicked it past Owl keeper Keith Hevey.
In the 83rd minute, Eph senior Patrick Ebobisse played a through ball that Rashid ran onto behind the Westfield backs and netted the game-winner.
"(Rashid) had a great game, he was the man of the match obviously," Russo said. "I thought Peter Christman also had a fantastic match, and our back line, with Matt Ratajczak and Dan Lima, was decent. Overall, it being our first game with just five practice days beforehand and against a team that had been out awhile, we'll take it."
Than Finan made two saves for the Ephs, who outshot their hosts 27-7 and compiled eight corners to the Owls none.
Williams is back in action Saturday in its home opener against Bates. Game time is 1:30 p.m.