The Whittier College Men’s Soccer team secured a second successive home victory on Saturday, Oct. 1. defeating the Occidental Tigers 2-1. The win takes the Poets record to 4-5 overall and 4-2 in SCIAC.
“We are continuing to improve with every game we play,” Head Coach Shea Harwell said. “It is really important that we are able to peak at the right time so we can head into the playoffs playing to the best of our abilities.”
Goals from junior forwards Adolfo Santos and Srdan Jovanovic in the second half gave the Poets a comfortable 2-0 lead going into the final 10 minutes. Occidental’s goal seven minutes before the final whistle resulted in a tense ending to the game where Whittier preserved their lead and claimed all three points.
The game started slowly as both teams struggled to find real momentum in the heat. As both teams started to adapt and find some rhythm, it was Whittier who started to create goal scoring opportunities and put Occidental on the back foot. Clever and short passing from the defense up to the offense on Whittier’s line-up meant the Poets had the majority of the possession, allowing them to create goal scoring opportunities.
Whittier’s first real opportunity came after 17 minutes following a long throw into the box from senior defender Tommy Barber, finding sophomore defender Francis Maxwell who tried an adventurous overhead kick which flew over the bar. Shortly after, Occidental tested the Whittier Goalkeeper, senior David Diaz, with a long range effort which Diaz did well to parry wide for a corner.
Halfway through the first period saw a spell of dominance from the Poets as they peppered the Occidental goal with three shots in as many minutes, forcing two excellent saves from the Occidental Goalkeeper, Andrew Larkin.
The first opportunity fell to senior forward Jonathan Palamino, who had his header tipped over from point-blank range following great work from Santos down the right hand side. From the resulting corner, junior midfielder Joshua Dredge struck a fierce shot from 25 yards after the ball was cleared from the box, forcing Larkin into another diving save.
Jovanovic returned to his usual attacking role and came close when he clipped the post with a dipping half-volley from the edge of the box. “We were unlucky to go in at half-time still level after so much domination,” Jovanovic said. “It was only a matter of time before we scored.”
The second half of the game started much like the first, with both teams struggling to possess the ball for long enough to create some real opportunities. However, it was Santos who broke the deadlock after 57 minutes with an effort from the edge of the box. Santos struck the ball with real pace as it flew into the top left corner of the net following a pass from sophomore defender Matthew Rojas.
Following the goal, there were limited opportunities for both teams as the majority of the play returned to the middle of the field. The momentum swung Whittier’s way again after 72 minutes, as Occidental was forced to continue the game with 10 players after their defender, Zoe Johnson received a straight red card following an ugly challenge.
Three minutes later, Whittier doubled their advantage after a neat finish from Jovanovic, hooking the ball with the outside of his right foot into the far corner from close range after receiving the ball from junior midfielder Joshua Dredge. With a two goal margin separating the teams, little time remaining and Occidental a player down, Whittier looked comfortable as they came close to further goals with two efforts from senior midfielder Patricio Carregha. Carregha was able to force Larkin into making a good save with his first effort and saw his second effort just sail wide of the post following an excellent run from Santos. With seven minutes remaining Occidental managed to sneak a goal against the run of play, following a cross into the box from the right hand side which was headed in at the back post by midfielder Will Moseley.
Although this goal caused a tenser ending to the game than previously imagined, Whittier kept it tight at the back and held onto the win which strengthens Whittier’s position in SCIAC as we nearly reach the half way point in the season.
“At the start of the season, we knew we weren’t playing anywhere near as well as we’re capable of,” sophomore defender Francis Maxwell said. “Now we’re starting to pick up good results and playing better as a team with every game, hopefully we can continue to increase our momentum as the season progresses.”
The Poet’s next game will be on Saturday, Oct. 8. as they host La Verne looking to secure a third successive victory. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at the Donald E. Graham Soccer Field.