What goes into making an early season conference match one of the premier talking points of a young season? All you have to do it take a closer look at today’s 0-0 draw between St. Thomas and Denver and you’ll have all you could ever ask for from a soccer game.
Conference Bragging Rights
Okay, perhaps a bit of an obvious one to start it off, but bear with me for a moment. As St. Thomas transitions into Division 1 and they look to mark themselves as a serious contender in it, they need to take as many Summit League opponents as they can and just beat them down. The more points the better, but they’re still proving that they belong up with the big dogs, and there was no bigger dog to contend with than Denver.
A Top 10 Opponent
Denver came into the game ranked #10 overall in the NCAA, and had just felled fellow ranked opponent #21 Virginia earlier this week in Charlottesville. Nobody would have argued with you if you had said that they were the favorites coming into St. Paul this Saturday.
However, it’s a curious thing that happens when David has to face off against Goliath. Something awakens, and suddenly the team is playing harder, stronger, and faster than they have all season. Such was the case tonight where I saw a St. Thomas team, which was already playing an impressive brand of soccer having opened their Summit League season with a 2-0 shut-out win, reach an even higher level of play.
“It kinda felt like an old FA Cup game, right?” Coach Lowery mused after the game. “When like the big boys come to town, and y’know you get them on your home field.”
There’s just something about the big opponents that elevates a game to the next level, which brings me to the next hallmark of our game…
Tough, Physical, Old-School Defense
The Tommies were flying all over the field making these massive crunching (And utterly satisfying) tackles. Special shouts go to Oliver Bieleveldt and Jack Gleckler, who were both absolutely rock solid on the back line for the Tommies. Anytime a Denver attack managed to make it through St. Thomas’ formidable midfield (ran by captain Wes Lorrens) both men were there waiting for the chance to steal the ball off of the feet of the unlucky waiting Pioneer.
There were fouls abound throughout the game as well, with 23 total between the two teams in just the first half. Yet not a single yellow card was given in the first half (although 8 total cards would be dished out in the second), and the fans were loving it. Letting the players play in that first half only upped the intensity of the game, really allowing them to grow into the best versions of themselves.
A Standout Keeper
That’s it, that’s the whole section. Twelve total saves in the game. Twelve. What a performance against a top tier team, and it’s really what the team expects out of him, especially after his early season Summit League Defensive Player of the Week award.
Sure, a bit lower on the scale of great games, but when it comes to games like this, there’s going to be a bit of luck that plays into it.
Our luck today was sponsored by St. Thomas’ own right goalpost who introduced himself rather rudely to Denver’s Ian Smith. Smith found himself free in the box and launched a shot that blasted into the right goalpost, and landed safely in the gloves of Tucker Mann.
Another victim to the luck monster, Aidan O’Toole also saw his chance to send the Pioneers go begging as he blasted a squared ball over the whole goal after doing all of the hard work to find himself in position for an easy tap-in.
What was Lacking?
Well, again to state the obvious, the thing lacking from a hard-hitting, defensive, 0-0 draw would be a goal or two.
It wasn’t from a lack of trying from either side, with Denver having their two huge chances mentioned above. St. Thomas also was able to get forward on numerous occasions, but they lacked the “maturity” needed to put themselves ahead in a game like this according to Coach Lowery. “I think a more experienced, mature team: I think we get a goal in that game. I thought we looked youthful and a little bit surprised to be in some attacking spots… I thought we could’ve been more dangerous on set pieces, but I’ll start at the other end. Just to shut them out… y’know we’ve made some huge strides on just how collectively, how to take care of a game.”
The Tommies will take on their next Summit opponent, Omaha, who finished third in the Summit a year ago and will be looking to make a run to the Summit League tournament and a NCAA tournament bid this year. They will have to face off against a tough Tommies team who has started with four points from two games, and zero goals conceded to begin their Summit League campaign.