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UNH men’s soccer: Koleilat saves the day for No. 14 Wildcats in 2-1 nail biter


DURHAM, N.H. — The No. 14 University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer team (3-0-0, 0-0-0) struck down the Providence College (2-1-0, 0-0-0) Friars 2-1 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Goals came from graduate students Linus Fallberg and Paul Mayer. The two goals would not have been enough for a win however, had it not been for junior goalkeeper Jassem Koleilat. The Emiratis keeper was a force in net all night with three massive saves to keep UNH in front. Koleilat held a Providence team who scored three and six goals in their first two games to just one goal from a penalty kick.  

Neither team looked settled out of the gate under the Friday night lights in Durham. The Wildcats, who enjoyed most of the possession versus the likes of Boston University and Colgate, faced a far more frantic and energetic Providence side. Both teams were feeling the game out and looked jumpy for the opening five minutes.  

The Wildcats began to find their groove after the opening 10 minutes and looked the best they have all season playing out of the back. Soon enough, the UNH attack was threatening the Friars’ goal.  

Graduate student Johann von Knebel was again the sparkplug for the Wildcat offense and was nearly the architect of a goal in the 15th minute. Von Knebel’s dribbling is fast emerging as his best attribute, and he left two Friars in the dust while surging down the right flank. The German had his head up and picked out senior Tola Showunmi on the left side of the 18-yard box. Showunmi found graduate student Jacob Gould right on the penalty spot, but the Providence keeper closed and made a great leg save to deny Gould the opener.  

The writing was on the wall for Providence, who continued to lose possession in midfield and allow Wildcats to make attacking runs deep into their final third.  

Fallberg was the cat that killed the clergymen in the 23rd minute. The grad student gained possession near midfield and sent Gould on a run down the middle with a full head of steam. The Providence defense converged on Gould, who was waiting for them. The captain placed a beautifully weighted through-ball to Fallberg, who sent a low-driven shot toward the far post. A trailing Providence defender made a last-ditch effort to keep Fallberg’s shot out but could only deflect the ball into his own net.  

UNH’s play regressed following the goal and Providence took the initiative. UNH head coach Marc Hubbard doesn’t seem to have found the back four he’s most confident in at this point in the season. Yet another combination was out there Friday night. Several runs from Providence threatened the Wildcats’ net, but some remarkable recoveries and a little bit of luck kept the clean sheet.  

Fifth-year Providence striker Davis Smith was square with the UNH goal but blasted a perfect cross over the bar. Minutes later, Koleilat made his best save of the year. A Providence shot was headed to the back of the net before Koleilat got a hand to it at full stretch to preserve his team’s lead. Saves like that can be a difference-maker, and Hubbard has been be thrilled with his new starter between the sticks.  

“[Koleilat] was great,” said Hubbard. “He stepped up big for us and is why we were able to get the win.” 

Halftime came just in time for UNH, who was fading in the last 10 minutes of the first half. The defense was bending more and more and looked ready to break if not for the referee’s whistle. 

After the break, things didn’t look much better for the Wildcats. UNH was slow and sloppy to start the second half. Many of the same problems that emerged in the final minutes of the opening half were visible after the break. Providence took the game to UNH, forcing action from Koleilat and winning the first corner of the half. The Wildcats were chasing the game far more than their spell of polished play in the first half that led to the goal.  

The Wildcats defense suffered a blow in the 60th minute when graduate student Nils Buchwalder came off the field due to a cramp. 2021 is Buchwalder’s first season in Durham, but the German native has started all three games for the ‘Cats.  

In the 68th minute, Koleilat managed to top his earlier save. Providence fired a header from four yards out toward the keeper’s feet. The junior made a brilliant foot save on a shot that looked destined to tie the game.  

Providence surely soon regretted their squandered chances to tie the game. UNH pushed forward on a fast break in the 74th minute, and after Providence blocked his shot, junior Bilal Kamal curled an in-swinging cross toward Mayer. Mayer rose to meet the cross and flicked a header into the top corner at the far post. The goal sent Wildcat Stadium into cheers of joy and relief after a period when an equalizer felt more likely than a second UNH goal.   

The momentum pivoted once more in the 83rd minute when a Providence cross struck the hand of a UNH defender in the box. Senior Paulo Lima converted the penalty kick to bring the Friars within one. The penalty was UNH’s first goal conceded in the 2021 season.  

The ‘Cats did their best to waste time for the final minutes of the game. UNH refused to let Providence get the equalizer and held on for their third win of the season. Many of the game’s challenges and tackles were rough, and the contest was UNH’s most physical of the season. The game that saw the referee issue five yellow cards ended with a scuffle after the final whistle with several players from both sides having to be restrained. 

Following the postgame extracurriculars, the ‘Cats applauded their home crowd, who had cheered them to yet another home win.  

Hubbard was pleased with the team’s effort to get the win against a tenacious opponent.  

“It’s a big win against a good team. It’s big for regional rankings and stuff down the road because that team will go on to win a lot more games. I’m happy with how the guys performed.” 

The Wildcats will be back in action Tuesday, Sept. 7 when they begin a three-game road trip versus Northeastern University (2-0-1, 0-0-0).  

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