Old and new combined for a new look Wildcats offense in the first two games of the fall 2021 season.
The No. 20 University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer team (2-0-0,0-0-0) was on the road to take on the Boston University (BU) Terriers (0-1-0, 0-0-0) in their season opener. The Wildcats dominated the game but struggled to find the finishing touch for much of the night. UNH outshot BU 5-2 in the first half but lacked a clinical finish.
Finally, in the 83rd minute the ‘Cats clawed their way into the back of the net.
Senior Wildcat Tola Showunmi dribbled past two Terrier defenders on the left-wing and laid the ball off to graduate student Johann von Knebel. Von Knebel is a new addition to the Wildcats this season, but the Hamburg, Germany native looked perfectly in sync with his English teammate. Von Knebel played a return ball to Showunmi with a backheel flick. Showunmi had tunnel vision for the goal and bent his shot around the BU keeper from a tough angle just outside the six-yard box.
Head coach Marc Hubbard said that Showunmi, who struggled with injuries last season, is just beginning to show what he’s capable of on the field.
“[Showunmi] is someone that I think when he’s on the field he’s definitely very productive. So just trying to get him back to full fitness and with the other guys up front, we’ll see what type of chemistry we can create,” said Hubbard.
The give-and-go goal looked like some chemistry had already been built between the new teammates.
Five minutes after the opening goal, von Knebel capped off a dream debut for the ‘Cats. In the 88th minute, the German smashed a half volley bar down into the top right corner of BU’s net. The 2-0 score stuck as UNH moved to 1-0-0 on the young season.
A boisterous crowd of 3,317 welcomed UNH back to Wildcat Stadium for their home opener. Boos and jeers greeted Colgate University (0-2-0, 0-0-0) from stands that sat mostly empty and silent last season.
Coach Hubbard said he couldn’t help but gaze at the packed stands during the game.
“It was hard to focus on the game because you’re looking across and seeing all the people. So, it’s definitely a great testament to our guys and the program that we built. We hope that the support continues because it definitely makes a big difference for us on the field, and we want to continue to try and put UNH on the national map. We think that we have a strong case to do that this year.”
The Wildcats did not let down the record number of attendees. The game’s first real chance came in the 10th minute when graduate student Linus Fallberg sent a dangerous cross skidding across the turf. Much to Fallberg and the crowd’s dismay, no fellow ‘Cats were in the area to put the ball home.
Moments later, a long cross from graduate student Sam Henneberg found the foot of Showunmi, who made no mistake and tapped the ball in at the far post. The goal sent Wildcat stadium into a frenzy and put UNH deservedly ahead.
Showunmi was a force in the attacking third all game. The Englishman and Merrimack College transfer towers over most on the field standing at 6-foot-3. Showunmi looks just as dangerous off-ball as he does on it. The senior has no trouble creating and came close to finding the back of the net once again in the 26th minute. Senior Colgate keeper Nick Gerlach parried Showunmi’s shot which fell to von Knebel, who just missed over the bar with a half volley.
Von Knebel was omnipresent in the middle of the field for the Wildcats. The newcomer is brilliant on the ball, and his dribbling leaves most defenders looking between their legs while von Knebel is already by them.
Hubbard is pleased with von Knebel’s play but said he can’t wait until the he truly settles into his new surroundings and team.
“[von Knebel] is someone that has played at a high level back home,” said Hubbard. “It’s going to be a transition for him, so I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. He isn’t completely settled yet, but [von Knebel’s] definitely someone in the attacking front five positions for us who can do some damage and who’s obviously a physical presence out there too.”
UNH couldn’t muster another goal despite several strong chances. The ‘Cats sat deeper and invited Colgate to press higher up while looking for chances on the counter. Several came, but none were converted. The 1-0 win and shutout are a testament to the solidity of UNH’s backline despite the fluctuation in the lineup. The ‘Cats defense only allowed two shots all game, both of which were saved by junior goalkeeper Jassem Koleilat.
That’s now two notches the win column for what continues to be one of the brightest programs at UNH. Showunmi and von Knebel sit atop the points column with four and three respectively. It’s not all the way there yet, but once this team inevitably finds its groove, get ready for fireworks.
The Wildcats will be back home this Friday to welcome Providence (2-0-0, 0-0-0) into Durham at 7 p.m. That game will be aired on Watch ESPN.
Photo courtesy of China Wong.