St. Peter, Minn. – Thanks to a goal headed in by senior Gabe Steinborn (Sioux Falls, S.D.) in the 69th minute, and to sophomore Brett Ylonen’s (Lake Elmo, Minn.) most stellar performance of the season in net, the Gustavus men’s soccer team earned a trip to the MIAC Playoff Championship with a 1-0 victory over the University of St. Thomas on Tuesday afternoon at the Gustie Soccer Field. Second seeded Gustavus improves to 15-2-1 overall with the victory, while St. Thomas finishes it’s season 11-5-3
“Great game today – exciting for the fans and the players with both teams playing good football. It was a lot of fun,” said Head Coach Mike Middleton.
Thanks to their ninth one goal victory of the season this afternoon, Gustavus will make it’s first appearance in the MIAC Playoff Championship since 2007 when it defeated St. Olaf 2-0 in St. Peter. The Gusties will travel to Northfield, Minn. to face Carleton in the MIAC Playoff Championship on Saturday, Nov. 3rd at 1:00 p.m. The Knights topped Saint John’s 2-0 in their semifinal match this afternoon.
“I thought we played very well today,” said Middleton. “We were good in possession and closed them down when we did not have the ball. The work-rate was terrific from both teams. We dominated the first twenty minutes before they came back into it and caused us some problems.”
Through a solid stretch of sustained possession, Gustavus had a golden opportunity in the 27th minute when Charlie Adams (Fr., Stillwater, Minn.) played a beautiful ball to Gabe Steinborn at the left post. Steinborn couldn’t connect on the header and the ball sailed safely past the goal to keep the match scoreless.
Following Gustavus’ best chance of the half, St. Thomas picked up its play and would control the remaining minutes of the half. The Tommies had a 6-to-4 shots advantage following the opening half, finishing the frame with five shots on goal compared to Gustavus’ one.
Within three minutes of each other in the second half, fans at the Gustie Soccer Field witnessed two of the finer saves of the season by both the Gustavus and St. Thomas goalkeepers. At the 51:14 mark, Brett Ylonen stared down St. Thomas’ leading scorer Nick Rapisarda with the ball on his foot from 10 yards out and nothing but an open net in front of him. Ylonen closed the gap between him and the striker before making a sliding save and knocking Rapisarda’s shot wide left clear of the goal.
“We got back on top at the start of the second half and created some chances,” said Middleton. “They had one very good break-away, and Brett Ylonen came out as quick as a whippet to smother the opportunity.”
At the 53:43 mark came the second big save, this time from St. Thomas keeper Mitchell Wolff. Gustavus forward Eric Schneider (So., St. Anthony, Minn.) looked as if he would find the back of the net with a header on a cross at the left side of the box, yet Wolff sprawled to his right to deflect the would-be go-ahead goal with his right hand.
“What a great save from their goalkeeper Mitchell Wolf in the second half. A beautiful cross in, and a full-length diving header from Schneider heading to the top corner before being pushed over the crossbar,” complimented Middleton.
Despite his near miss on a header earlier in the day, Gabe Steinborn would not be denied on his second chance in the 66th minute. After a foul on St. Thomas, Gustavus was awarded free kick just inside the right touch line from 25 yards out. David Lilly (So., Maple Grove, Minn.) played a high ball across the box to the left post where it found its way through traffic and onto the head of Steinborn.
Stated Middleton on the Steinborn goal, “An excellent goal from Gabe Steinborn, rising at the back post to thump in a great header. He’s an absolute handful.”
The goal by Steinborn was his second game-winner of the season. His first also came on a header against Augsburg on Oct. 13. With the assist, Lilly now has a team-best nine on the season.
Although Gustavus’ defense was stifling following the go-ahead goal, St. Thomas would not go quietly into the post-season. With less than :15 seconds on the clock, Nick Rapisarda was denied on a header of his own by a sprawling Brett Ylonen who kept the ball out of the corner of the net with a leaping right-handed punch.
“What a save at the end from our goalkeeper Brett Ylonen – he’s worth his weight in gold,” laughed Middleton. “A beautiful ball in from St. Thomas, and a great header from Nick Rapisarda, who was excellent all-game. It could not have been placed better, but I repeat, what a save. Eat your hear out Tim Howard.”
Ylonen improves to 14-2-1 with the complete game shutout. The sophomore finished with eight saves, improving his season save percentage to .889 and goals against average to 0.51.
Gustavus finished with a 16-to-10 shots advantage after outshooting the Tommies 12-to-4 in the second half.
On Gustavus’ defensive effort, Middleton stated, “What a great battle between Lucas Thompson and Rapisarda – top class stuff. They battled all game harder than could be imagined, smiled, and shook hands at the end – both exhausted. Terrific respect shown by both players.”
Middleton also complimented the play of his midfield, saying, “David Lilly was imperious, almost regal-esque in midfield throughout, but Sean Sendelbach was the man-of-the-match with a great performance today.”