The Bradley soccer team’s postseason hopes were crushed in a heartbreaking game against the University of Evansville. In a must-win game, the Braves lost 4-3 in the dying seconds of the match ending with a controversial penalty in their season finale.
On a cold and rainy Saturday evening, the Braves (8-5-4, 1-5 MVC) hosted the Purple Aces (4-7-7, 2-2-2 MVC) at Shea Stadium in what would be a highly contested seven-goal thriller. Both teams were competing for a spot into the Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Soccer Championship, which only includes the top-six teams from the conference.
Senior forward Frank Bak noted how the team had a successful conclusion to its non-conference season but needed to make things happen in the MVC.
“Out of conference, we had a 13-game unbeaten streak,” Bak said. “But when conference started, we lost our starting center back [Alex Ciaramitaro]. So, we were trying to figure that out for a bit, but when that happened, we had three back-to-back conference games. It was in our hands to decide if we were in or not [in the MVC Championship].”
The first half kicked off in Bradley’s favor, as they found two shots and three corner kicks in the first four minutes. Evansville found their feet, however, and began winning the possession.
The Purple Aces obtained the 1-0 advantage when forward Logan Much scored off a cross past redshirt junior goalkeeper Albert Reinwart in the 29th minute. Bradley tried to respond with two substitutions and more offensive pressure but to no avail. The first half ended 1-0.
It only took a matter of 52 seconds into the second half for Bradley to equalize. The Braves were awarded a corner that was cleared out by Evansville. Bak collected the ball and crossed it back in to redshirt junior forward Jha’Lon Johnson, who then scored his first goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1 in the 46th minute.
Bradley then took the advantage, 2-1, in the 64th minute after sophomore forward Gerit Wintermeyer scored from the penalty spot, following a hard foul in the box.
Bradley head coach Jim DeRose felt that the game was beginning to become unorganized for the Braves, even though they held the one-goal advantage.
“When you get into a disjointed game like that, where you’re not sure what’s going to happen, I would say that many goals were decided from a free kick or penalty,” DeRose said. “Evansville had more [open goals] on their side of the scoreboard that we did, though.”
Evansville remained undeterred and made a two-goal rally in three minutes to go back on top, 3-2. Defender Trevor Baum equalized, 2-2, for the Purple Aces in the 75th minute after capitalizing on a loose ball that resulted from a corner. Midfielder Filip Johansson then pounced on a deflected ball in the 78th minute to regain Evansville’s one-goal lead.
Wintermeyer replied just eight minutes later for the Braves. Bradley was awarded a throw-in, which Bak stepped up to take. Bak threw in a ball into Evansville’s box, which Wintermeyer headed in and lobbed over Purple Aces goalkeeper Greg Niven to tie the game at 3-3.
While both teams were looking to end the game in regulation, it appeared as if the game would go into yet another extra time at Shea Stadium. This is something that Bradley welcomed because they had only lost once in seven extra-time matchups (3-1-3).
It wasn’t meant to be, though. In what would be considered a questionable call, Evansville won a penalty kick at the edge of the box with 32.3 seconds to go in regulation. Midfielder Jesse Stafford-Lacey scored from the spot to win the game for the Purple Aces, 4-3.
DeRose expressed his unhappiness with the call in the final seconds of the game and believed the team had a chance in extra time.
“Controversial would be an understatement [in regard to the penalty],” DeRose said. “We knew what we had to do – we had to win. Going into overtime, we still would have had 20 more minutes. It was a good resolve and a great fight, but it was a bit disappointing.”
Bak added that while the call was fair, he believed that it was a bad time to decide the game.
“I think the call was more about the time it happened,” Bak said. “In the moment, with how much time was left, it was a bad call, and I think [the referee] should have let it play out.”
As a result, the Braves’ postseason hopes have come to an end, and with it, the conclusion of their 2018 season.
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