St. Peter, Minn. – With snow banks lining the end and touchlines of the Gustie Soccer Field, it was the quintessential atmosphere for an early-winter men’s soccer playoff contest between MIAC rivals Gustavus and Saint John’s. Thanks to a pair of first half goals by Zane Heinselman on Wednesday afternoon, Saint John’s picked off top-seeded Gustavus by the score of 2-1 in the semifinal round of the MIAC Tournament. After Gustavus took a 1-0 lead with a Mark Tollefsrud (Jr., Spearfish, S.D.) goal in the 27th minute, Saint John’s responded with two unanswered goals by Heinselman in the 33rd and 40th minutes. The Johnnies held on to the one-goal margin for the remainder of the match, earning a trip to the MIAC Playoff Championship set to take place on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Gustavus drops to 13-3-1 overall with the loss, while Saint John’s will enter Saturday’s championship with an overall record of 9-6-3.
“Not the result the lads wanted today and they were bitterly disappointed,” said Head Coach Mike Middleton after the match. “That, however, should not mask their performance, which at times was irresistible, especially in the first half. We moved the ball beautifully as it was a pure a display of one-way traffic as one could wish to see.”
After controlling possession for a majority of the of the opening 25 minutes of the first half, Gustavus took advantage of a loose ball off a scramble in front of the Johnnie goal. Konnor Tranoris (So., Des Moines, Iowa) got the play started when he sent a low cross to the near post from the left corner. After the cross was knocked around by the Saint John’s goalkeeper and then Charlie Adams (So., Stillwater, Minn.), it came to Mark Tollefsrud who was on the doorstep for the easy tap-in.
Less than three minutes after their first goal, the Gusties nearly scored again when Zach Brown (Jr., Eau Claire, Wis.) snapped a header at what appeared to be a wide open net. Sprawling to his left, Saint john’s goalkeeper Ryan Brutger sprawled to his left and got just enough of Brown’s shot to keep his team within one goal.
Brutger was challenged three more times from that point on and was up to the challenge all three times. His fifth and final save of the afternoon turned out to be a game-saver as he turned away a Zach Schmith’s (Sr., Sioux Falls, S.D.) header off a corner kick with another sprawling save.
Saint John’s opening goal of the match came at the 32:29 mark when Zane Heinselman found the ball on his foot at the middle of the goalkeeper box. After a pass that originated from the end line found its way through traffic in front of the net, several Gusties failed to clear and the ball eventually came to Heinselman who buried the equalizer.
Nearly seven minutes later, Saint John’s earned a corner kick and took advantage. Michael Coborn swung a left-footed corner towards the near post where Heinselman rose above his defender and headed the ball into the top right corner of the net.
Gustavus, who had never trailed at halftime and who had allowed just one first half goal all season prior to today, now found itself in a 2-1 hole at halftime.
“One goal was not enough given the dominance,” Middleton said. “We had several chances to make it 2-0 but just couldn’t convert. To Saint John’s credit, they scored on a break-away completely against the run of play to go up 1-1. They then hit us on the break again to earn a corner from which they scored. Not too many teams score twice here. They shocked us on our own pitch and for that they are owed a great deal of credit.”
Saint John’s played 45 minutes of lockdown defensive soccer in the second half. The back line of the Johnnies allowed Gustavus just three shots – one of which was on goal – in the frame.
“The second half saw a similar pattern,” commented Middleton, “but the play became increasingly scrappy as they held on to their first half lead. They limited our scoring chances, successfully disrupted play, and held on for dear life. Despite a lot of possession, we did not create enough chances. It’s tough when a team parks the bus in front of the goal, but we have to find away around that.”
By the 90th minute, Gustavus held a 9-8 edge in shots and a 9-7 advantage in corner kick opportunities.
Goalkeeper Brett Ylonen (Jr., Lake Elmo, Minn.) suffered his third loss of the season after allowing two goals and making two saves. It was Ylonen’s first loss since Sept. 24 against Wartburg (2-1) and just the second time this season he allowed more than one goal in a match.
“Our lads battled valiantly, but it was not to be,” Middleton added. “Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes it goes against you – today was not our day. We wish them well in the tournament final.”
The Gustavus men’s soccer team will now play the waiting game as the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Selection Committee decides its NCAA Tournament fate following this weekend’s matches. Gustavus will wait to find out if they will receive an at-large bid when the field is announced Monday at noon during a selection show on NCAA.com.
“It has been a great season – a history making season actually – and the lads should be proud,” Middelton stated. “We do stand a chance of an at-large bid given the fact the we play such a strong non-conference schedule and the MIAC is recognized as one of the top conferences nationally. Fingers crossed we get into the NCAA tournament. If we do, I feel we can make a strong run. This is a talented team and a great bunch of lads.”