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Luis Diaz wins the ball with a slide tackle during Sunday's skirmish with Charleston. (Brian Bergstrom/My Buckhannon)
Luis Diaz wins the ball with a slide tackle during Sunday's skirmish with Charleston. (Brian Bergstrom/My Buckhannon)

Analysis: Three takeaways as Bobcats nearly upset top-ranked Charleston

An upset was brewing on a brutally hot late September day in Buckhannon.

After more than 100 minutes of play, the West Virginia Wesleyan College men’s soccer team was locked in a next-goal-wins overtime battle with the top squad in the nation, the University of Charleston. Although Charleston ultimately netted the golden goal — defeating the ‘Cats 2-1 in double overtime – a scrappy Wesleyan side showed they can compete with just about anyone, especially on the natural grass of their home turf.

Scorching temperatures, sizzling play

Wesleyan has been one of Charleston’s staunchest foes in recent years, consistently challenging their Mountain East Conference rivals as the Golden Eagles ascended into the upper echelon of elite Division II programs. The ‘Cats have done so by matching finesse with physicality. But whether due to the heat or the early afternoon kickoff, much of the urgency typically on display in a UC/WVWC matchup was absent early in Sunday’s clash.

The searing temperatures affected both teams, with a laconic start leading to Charleston’s first goal, an arching ball into the box that Alejandro Larrayoz finished with a header in just the ninth minute of play.

A short time later, lazy passes by the Golden Eagle back line led to two solid chances for the Bobcats, with Nugzar Barkaia and Javier De Ona Garcia both challenging deep in Charleston territory. The early miscues jolted both teams into a more animated, back-and-forth style of play that would define the remainder of the match.

Smee mindful of Wesleyan counterattack in return to Buckhannon

The game marked a return to his alma mater for Charleston head coach Daniel Smee, a former standout Bobcat midfielder.

As a player, Smee’s ability to surgically dissect defenses was a big part of Welseyan’s run to the Elite Eight in 2010. His Golden Eagle squad displays a similar style, keeping the field in front of them and patiently breaking down defenses.

After netting the early goal, Charleston seemed content to play the slow game, ever mindful of Wesleyan’s potent counterattack. Even though they dominated possession, Smee stayed conservative, keeping numbers well back to thwart the flying Wesleyan forwards who have confounded opponents this year.

But the Bobcats came out of halftime playing far more aggressively. That work paid off in the 65th minute, when Wesleyan notched the equalizer on a corner that was played short to Nika Monaselidze, who rocketed a ball toward goal that Zacharias Kohring flicked on with his head into the far post netting.

Wesleyan defense shows toughness under fire

After Wesleyan’s goal, Charleston pressed forward with urgency, unleashing a furious series of attacks as regulation wound down.

Bobcat goalkeeper Logan Nelson was forced into his first real action of the afternoon and responded with several dramatic saves, particularly during a series of corner kicks late in the second period.

After regulation ended with the game tied at 1-1, Smee dialed up the offense even more with a new lineup that amped up the attack throughout the two 10-minute OT segments. But the Bobcat back line showed considerable toughness, winning balls in the air and giving the Golden Eagle offense little space to maneuver, particularly in the middle of the field.

Ultimately, the pressure became too much; Eduardo Barros scored with less than three minutes remaining on the clock and Charleston escaped with win.

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