The Western Mustangs men’s soccer team defeated the Windsor Lancers 2-1 in penalties in an Ontario University Athletics West Division quarter-final contest on Wednesday night at Mustangs Field.
The Mustangs came out of the gates on fire, dominating play and keeping the ball out of their end. Even when the Lancers pushed into the Mustangs' zone, Western’s defence quickly dispelled the attackers.
With a strong first half from the defence, it was fitting that the first goal of the game came from fourth-year defender Jonathan Hodge. Following a Mustangs' corner kick, the veteran found the ball in a scramble in front of the net and played it past the Lancers goalkeeper in the 18th minute.
The second half was a different story for the Mustangs. Windsor was playing for their season and their desperation allowed them to break through the walls of the Western defence.
Head coach Martin Painter explained that in the “second half, [the Lancers] applied a little bit more pressure on us, and we struggled to deal with that.”
According to Painter, as the game entered its final minutes, his team's focus began to wane.
“[We] weren't very tidy and lost confidence," said Painter. "[We] lost belief, got a little panicky, watched the scoreboard, watched the clock. When you do that, bad things happen.”
Playing in an added seven minutes of injury time, the Lancers forced their way to the front of the Mustangs' net for a close scoring chance that was stopped by goalie Kody Thomson.
However, after the ball squirted loose, a Western defender applied too much body contact in an effort to clear the ball and the Lancers were awarded a penalty shot. Tanner Page converted on the chance, tying the game at one a piece.
After the game, Painter was still confused why the officials felt the play warranted a penalty.
“It looked like our guys poked the ball away and there was a little bit of contact,” conceded Painter. “But to make a call like that in the 90th minute is not something that I would expect.”
The Lancers tying goal forced extra time: an unwelcome added 30 minutes for an exhausted Mustangs squad playing in frigid conditions.
Despite a few chances from both sides — including a few close chances for Western at the end of the second half — the Lancers and Mustangs were locked in a tie at the end of extra time, forcing penalties.
The Mustangs fell to an early 2–1 deficit on the first two shots, but Kody Thompson bailed his team out with saves on the Lancers’ third and fourth shots.
Miraculous saves and two successful shots by Western put Rob D’Amario in the position to win the game and keep the Mustangs' season alive. The third-year player stuttered and fired the game-winning goal behind the fooled Lancers goaltender.
After the game, D’Amario explained that he wasn't bothered by the pressure of the moment.
“You know what, this kind of stuff excited me," said D'Amario. "There's two ways to look at it: get nervous or live in the moment; I just let the nerves go."
Because the highly-touted McMaster Marauders were upset by the Waterloo Warriors, the Mustangs will go on the road to play the Guelph Gryphons in an OUA West semifinal match.
“I think we're going in as an underdog with really nothing to lose,” said Painter of the impending semifinal game against the Gryphons. “I think if we can play our best and do it for 90 minutes,… anything could happen.”