Tuesday’s loss hurts Panthers’ ranking


Bryan Bund

Eastern freshman Kevin Lenham guards a Northern Illinois player in the Panthers’ 2-0 loss to the Huskies at Lakeside Field on Sept. 21.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

It looked as though Eastern’s men’s soccer team grabbed its third win of the season Tuesday evening against Belmont.

With only 10 minutes left in the match, Eastern midfielder Cole Harkrader scored his first goal of the season and gave Eastern a 2-1 lead, certainly seeming to give Eastern a needed win, barring any late-game heroics from Belmont.

But the Bruins did it.

They scored two goals in the last four minutes to rob the Panthers and sent them home with a what-could-have-been feeling.

Eastern (2-5-2) lead twice in the match, with both leads being erased rather quickly by Belmont (2-5-1).

Adam Voloder tied the match for Belmont by scoring his second goal of the season with three minutes and six seconds left in the match, assisted by Ares Marlonsson, who had two assists Tuesday. Then 45 seconds before the final whistle, Niccolo Dagnoni scored his first goal of the season to give Belmont its second win on the year.

Eastern midfielder Nate Francke gave Eastern a 1-0 lead just over 28 minutes into the match, despite being shorthanded after Shady Omar got a red card just under eight minutes into the match. Belmont answered 55 seconds later when Matteo Bennati scored on a cross from Marlonsson.

The shocking and heartbreaking finale to Tuesday’s match took away from a possible momentum surge Eastern needed to ride into this weekend.

Tuesday is the Panthers’ third loss in a row, and while there are still eight matches left on the calendar, Eastern has to open conference play on a three-match losing streak against Denver, who is first in the Summit League and is not showing any signs of slowing down.

Tuesday was the chance for Eastern to bounce back from its below-average offensive performances from its previous two matches against Wright State and Northern Illinois, in which the Panthers averaged four shots per match, down from the previous season average of 10 per match.

While Eastern took eight shots Tuesday, just under the new 8.5 shots per game average, and scored two goals, nothing can make up for the win.

While eight shots is not bad, Eastern is boasting a .342 shot-on-goal percentage, compared to opponents’ .49 percentage. If the Panthers want any shot against Denver, it will need to outshoot Denver and them to a manageable amount of shots.

And while the offense made a comeback of sorts against Belmont Tuesday, the defense now seems to need to recover before Saturday’s daunting meeting with Denver, which it likely will, considering Eastern prides itself on defense.

But Tuesday cannot be looked at as anecdotal evidence to say, “The offense did better and scored twice, what is there to worry about now?”

The two goals for Eastern were its only shots on goal. Betting on scoring on your few shots is a recipe for hope, not success. It just so happens that was the case Tuesday.

While only Denver and Omaha have played a match in conference play thus far, Eastern currently sits in fifth (tied for fourth) in the conference. The standings are based on non-conference points thus far (save Denver and Omaha), and Eastern is tied with Western Illinois with eight points.

The next closest team in standings is Oral Roberts in third, with 16 points; Fort Wayne is second with 18, and Denver leads with 25 total points.

Just to get to Oral Roberts’ current position, Eastern would need to win three matches, with eight left (each win is three points, a tie is one).

Only four teams make the postseason tournament out of six, and based on Omaha’s previous season’s performance, it will bounce back to make a run. 

So Eastern’s only chance is to win and out-run Western and Omaha, and possibly get lucky if Fort Wayne and Oral Roberts take a dive in the second half of the season.

The offense did score twice, a commendable feat considering that is the single-match high for Eastern this season, but only one result from Tuesday would have really, truly helped the Panthers: a win.

Now, Eastern will have to chase its conference foes. Without a win Saturday, or even a tie, sniffing the conference tournament will be difficult.

Tuesday was a turning point for Eastern; now, the Panthers cannot afford to make any mistakes the rest of the season.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].