St. Peter, Minn. – In what was a fast and physical battle between two of three remaining teams with unbeaten MIAC records, the Gustavus men’s soccer team came away with a 2-1 victory over St. Olaf on a rainy Saturday at the Gustie Soccer Field. With the match tied 1-1 halfway through the second half, Gustavus’s Zach Brown (Jr., Eau Claire, Wis.) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 70th minute off a long pass down the field from David Lilly (Jr., Maple Grove, Minn.).
Gustavus picks up three points and improves to 5-0-0 in the MIAC and 8-2-1 overall with the win. St. Olaf suffers its first conference loss of the year and is now 3-1-0 in the MIAC and 8-2-0 overall. Because St. Thomas and Hamline played to a 1-1 draw this afternoon, Gustavus takes over sole possession of first place in the MIAC with 15 points.
“An excellent game today and the lads once again produced a terrific performance,” said Head Coach Mike Middleton following the match. “We were irresistible in the first half in particular, scoring a well-worked goal early on.”
The goal Middleton is referring to was scored at the 5:11 mark by Ryan Tollefsrud (Jr., Spearfish, S.D.). The Gusties were explosive from the start, controlling possession in St. Olaf’s end and generating several chances before Zac Brown connected with Tollefsrud at the top of the box.
“The ball was played up the midfield before Brown beat a couple of defenders, feeding an exquisite through-ball to Ryan Tollefsrud who tucked it past the ‘keeper like the accomplished goal-scorer he is,” said Middleton about Gustavus’s opening goal of the game. “We must have had a least a dozen passes in the sequence leading to the finish – it was great stuff. We manufactured a number of good chances that would have put the game out of sight, but it was not to be.”
Tollefsrud’s goal was his fifth of the season, as the Gusties headed inside and out of the rain with a 1-0 lead and an 8-5 shots advantage after 45 minutes.
St. Olaf came out a much-improved squad in the second half. “I thought St. Olaf responded very well and moved the ball better than I have seen them move it,” commented Middleton on St. Olaf’s second half performance. “They held on despite the tide coming at them until eventually a penalty put them firmly back in the game.”
A foul on Gustavus inside the box early in the 61st minute gave St. Olaf’s Stephen Johnson a penalty kick opportunity at the 61:10 mark. Although Gustavus goalkeeper Brett Ylonen (Jr., Lake Elmo, Minn.) guessed correct and sprawled out to his right, Johnson’s shot slipped through the junior’s hands and into the back of the net.
“The decision and the ensuing penalty kick goal would have broken most teams, but our lads dug deep and pulled the game back,” commended Middleton. “That took such mental strength and resilience – I cannot praise them enough.”
Following St. Olaf’s game-tying goal, the Gusties tried several times to get the ball on the foot of Zach Brown with deep passes down the pitch. Finally in the 70th minute, David Lilly saw an opening and connected with his striker via a long arching pass that came down to Brown in the midst of two St. Olaf defenders. Brown headed the ball to settle it on the turf, bounced off a pair of tackle attempts, and then fired a low lining shot past the goalkeeper and into the bottom left corner of the net.
“A beautiful through-ball from David Lilly to Zach Brown, who scored with such cleverness that you’d expect him to have a PhD in goal-scoring. It was sheer delightful football – the beautiful game at its best,” said Middleton.
The goal was Brown’s team-leading sixth of the season and third game-winner. He has now scored a goal in the last three matches.
With the dime on Brown’s goal, Lilly upped his assist total to a team-best six on the year. The junior midfielder has now recorded the assist on five of Gustavus’s game-winning goals.
On the play of his midfield, Middleton stated, “David Lilly was once again supreme, gliding through the game like a thoroughbred racehorse. His partner, Sean Sendelbach, was also superb and was once again a midfield metronome.”
Almost immediately after Brown’s go-ahead goal, St. Olaf countered with an onslaught of opportunities. The Oles recorded four shots over the next eight minutes, and Brett Ylonen was called upon to make three saves. The junior made a total of four saves in the match, improving to 8-2-1 overall with the win.
“Brett Ylonen was at his dominating best – plucking set plays out of the air with consummate ease,” commented Middleton on the performance of his junior goalkeeper.
The Gusties had the edge in the final shot count at 18-12, while St. Olaf had the upper hand in corner kick opportunities with six compared to Gustavus’s two.
Middleton applauded the play of his back line, saying, “Zach Schmith was imperious, and another top-level performance from Elliot Emerson. The two are smarter than a Savile Row suit!”
“Our lads worked their socks off, and with no little skill, they came away with the three points. Charlie Adams, despite a knock in the first half, was perhaps the man-of-the-match. He’s a wily old fox on the ball – very clever indeed.”
The Gustavus men’s soccer team will be back on the pitch next Saturday when it travels to St. Paul to face the University of St. Thomas in what will be another critical MIAC test. The Gusties and Tommies will square off at 1:00 p.m.
“All in all it was a great game,” Middleton concluded. “The crowd enjoyed it, the lads enjoyed playing, and we came out on top – that’s a good day. In fact, because the lads have done so well they have even been given Monday off from training, which is a first!”