HARTFORD, CT -- Although the season is just four games old, the Williams men's soccer team appears to have found its niche on the field--driven into a corner.
Literally, that is.
A pair of converted corner kicks helped the Ephs pick up their fourth straight win to start the year in a showdown with conference rival Trinity in Hartford on Saturday. The win allowed Williams to improve to 4-0-0 (3-0-0 NESCAC), while Trinity picked up its first loss of the year and dropped to 2-1-0 (1-1-0 NESCAC).
"We have been working on corners—we've been getting much better service than last year," explained Coach Mike Russo after the game.
The Ephs started fast in this one, notching their first goal before Trinity could even string a pair of passes together. Right from the opening kick, an adventurous foray deep into Bantam territory by the tandem of Peter Christman and Chris Seitz forced Trinity to concede the game's first corner, taken by Patrick Ebobisse. Ebobisse took the corner well and sent a high in-swinger into the box, where it was headed down near the back post by Mohammed Rashid before being punched home by captain Matt Ratajczak, who became the sixth Eph to tally a goal on the young season.
Scarcely minutes had passed, however, before Trinity equalized in eerily similar fashion. A free kick by Johnny El-Hachem led to a Bantam corner. Christian Carrasquillo, who proved to be a thorn in the side of the Williams defense for much of the first half, took it, and his cross to the far side of the box was headed in cleanly by Kyle Johnston with just over four minutes elapsed.
In general, wide-open play reigned for the better part of the game's first quarter-hour, and both sides had several chances as the ball flew up and down the field. Williams keeper Than Finan, who was outstanding after his early miscue, made a couple of difficult stops on Carrasquillo from close range, while a pair of semi-breakaways for Ephs forward User Kushaina were thwarted by the Bantam back line.
As the half wore on, the Ephs gradually gained control of the game thanks to a combination of a stiffening back line, which recovered well from an early setback for the second straight game, and some imprecise passing from Trinity's midfield.
Williams also began to monopolize the game's scoring chances, and moments after an apparent Rashid goal was ruled offside, Ephs midfielder Matt Muralles collected a pass from Christman and broke the tie with a low, powerful strike from well outside the penalty area in the 20th minute. It was the second goal in as many games for the sophomore, whose efforts earned him the praise of Coach Russo.
"He's a very good attacking kind of midfielder, but he also has that bite to him defensively and finishes very well. I'm very pleased with his performance," said Russo, who was quick to note that there were few performances on the day with which he was not pleased.
The second half began with a serious offensive flurry from Trinity, but Finan continued his strong start to the season and turned away every curling shot and dangerous cross that came his way. Overall, Finan made six saves to earn his third victory in as many starts this year.
"Than was very solid and both goalkeepers have been very strong," said Russo, who added: "In this league, you need two keepers."
With the less than 10 minutes to go, the Ephs doubled their lead with a lightning-quick attack. The initial effort came from Kushaina, whose knifing run deep down the right flank carried him all the way inside the 18, where his rising shot was turned aside by sophomore goalie Jason Katz. Kushaina refused to be deterred, however, and on the ensuing corner he got off a shot that clanged narrowly off the crossbar. The ball fell fortuitously to the foot of Rashid, who finished his team-leading third goal of the year.
After starting the season with four games in ten days, Williams is now off for a week and will renew its 2012 campaign against Wesleyan at home on September 22. Meanwhile, Trinity has a quick turnaround and will travel to Bates to face the Bobcats on Sunday afternoon.