BROOKLINE, MASS. — Junior midfielder Rory O’Driscoll scored what may be the goal of the season to give University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer (4-0-0, 0-0-0) the 1-0 win at Northeastern (2-1-1, 0-0-0). The game was yet another solid showing from the ‘Cats, who were voted the No. 12 team in the country in the latest United Soccer Coaches’ Poll.
Defense was much of the story for both sides for most of the 90 minutes. UNH held Northeastern to just one shot on target. The ‘Cats had more of the ball and the chances in the game but lacked the final touch needed to break the deadlock for the first two-thirds of the contest.
In the 64th minute, O’Driscoll stepped up to take a free-kick from the right wing a few yards back from the box. It was not the ideal position for the Minnesota native, who is right-footed, to go for goal. But the junior wrapped his foot around the ball and curled his effort away from Northeastern’s redshirt sophomore keeper Colby Hegarty who had no chance. O’Driscoll’s shot beat him with pace and power, and the ball was buried into the far post.
The kick may have left some surprised that O’Driscoll went for goal, but head coach Marc Hubbard had full confidence that his midfielder could find the back of the net from that range.
“That’s what he does for us. I wasn’t surprised [he shot]. The fact that he went for it at the far post and converted is incredible,” said Hubbard.
O’Driscoll said he was around 40% sure he could score. The Wildcat’s set-piece specialist scored from a free-kick versus Northeastern last year and had a good feeling he’d do it again when he stood over the ball.
“I kind of assumed that the keeper would think I was going wall side, going to his left,” O’Driscoll explained. “So, I just took it, hit it to his right over the far corner and it went in top corner. So, it felt pretty good.”
UNH wasn’t the most potent on offense, but the defense made sure O’Driscoll’s one goal was good enough for a win.
“I think we could have done better on finishing, but defensively it was a decently solid performance,” said O’Driscoll. “Jassem [Koleilat] did really well in goal as well.”
O’Driscoll was spot on. Junior goalkeeper Jassem Koleilat had a standout save to keep the game tied before O’Driscoll’s winner. Koleilat isn’t forced to act too much because UNH’s defense is such a cohesive unit that rarely makes mistakes. But, when called upon, Koleilat delivers brilliance.
The Wildcats’ keeper had just one save on the night, but it was one to remember. The Huskies caught the Wildcats napping in the 20th minute and fed two quick passes to find a waiting attacker on the edge of the box. Koleilat was looking straight into the sun but got across the face of his goal in a flash. At full extension, the keeper palmed away the shot for a stupendous save.
Following the goal, UNH continued to apply pressure to Northeastern. The Huskies managed to break out from the Wildcats’ press better than most have this season, but their offense never fully clicked. The final minutes of the game were relatively comfortable for UNH. Sophomore back Liam Bennett nearly netted his first career goal for the Wildcats but was denied by a great save from Hegarty.
Hubbard was pleased with his team’s performance and pointed to the shutout as something the team emphasizes.
“It’s a mentality of ours to defend first,” said Hubbard. “We take pride in shutouts. And even if we do break down and give them a chance, Jassem’s playing in great form right now, so it’s nice to have him back there, knowing he can make a big save in an important moment of the game.”
The Wildcats will look to continue their perfect start to the season Friday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. when they take on the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Photo courtesy of Meghan Murphy