DURHAM, N.H. — The Wildcats secured their first win of the fall 2021 America East campaign with a 2-0 win over UAlbany (4-3, 0-1) on Saturday night. Junior midfielder Rory O’Driscoll found himself back on the scoresheet over the weekend. The Minneapolis native stayed hot and scored both goals of the game. University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer now sits at 7-0 on the season.
O’Driscoll opened the scoring early with what looked to be an attempted cross in the seventh minute. Instead of finding a teammate, the out-swinging ball nestled into the top left corner of the net and left UAlbany’s senior keeper Carlos Tofern picking the ball out of his goal. The goal was O’Driscoll’s third of the season. O’Driscoll has caught fire in recent games and his first of the night tied him for most goals on the team. The man he shared the spot with, senior Tola Showunmi, assisted the early breakthrough goal.
O’Driscoll chose not to comment on whether he meant to go for goal. If he had meant to score, however, it was one of the more ambitious shots taken by a Wildcat in recent memory.
After O’Driscoll’s — maybe accidental — goal, chances kept coming for UNH. However, as it’s been for much of the season, conversion came harder than creation. Graduate student Johann von Knebel came close to reigniting his previous attacking form with a header from the corner. The ball ricocheted off the crossbar, however, keeping the lead at one.
O’Driscoll was the next ‘Cat to nearly add a second goal for himself and the Wildcats. After Tofern handled the ball outside the box, O’Driscoll fired a free kick in from the edge of the 18-yard box. The effort didn’t have time to dip under the bar and flew harmlessly out of play.
The Wildcats continued to try and pick their way through the UAlbany defense but couldn’t find an insurance goal. Thankfully for UNH’s attack, their defense, bolstered by the return of graduate student and former First-Team All-American center-back Bridger Hansen, had the Great Danes by the collar all night. The visitors only managed a single shot on target all night, which junior keeper Jassem Koleilat denied with a stellar save.
Despite the lack of chances for UAlbany, head coach Marc Hubbard wasn’t pleased with every aspect of his back line’s play. In a fluid system like Hubbard’s, the attack needs to start from the back. According to Hubbard, Saturday’s display wasn’t good enough. The defense is asked to pick the right passes that begin the attacking moves, and Hubbard thought their distribution could use some work.
“Our defense had a lot of the ball, so I think they could have been a lot better in terms of how we moved the ball,” Hubbard explained. “When our center backs are on the ball a ton, their decisions are very much indicative of how we can break things down. So that definitely needs to get into a better rhythm going forward.”
The spark UNH needed came in the form of senior winger Chris Pinkham. Pinkham entered the game as a substitute midway through the second half. The attacker was an instant bolt of energy to the game. With a little over 10 minutes left to play, Pinkham turned on the afterburners and exploded up field with a brilliant, energetic run. Pinkham picked his head up and found graduate student Jacob Gould in the box with a lovely long ball. The veteran cut onto the inside and was taken down by a UAlbany defender. For the second game in a row, O’Driscoll stepped up to take a penalty kick.
O’Driscoll is a confident player, and that translates into his penalty kicks. He employed a stutter step followed by a hop right before the ball, just as he did last game against Marist. The jump buckled the knees of Tofern, and the Minneapolis magician slotted his second goal of the night, making it 2-0.
O’Driscoll said he was happier with giving his team a buffer goal at that point in the game than adding to his own stat sheet.
“Obviously nice to score another penalty,” said O’Driscoll. “But really just good to give us more than just the one-goal lead and let us relax a little bit.”
The second goal killed off any hope for a UAlbany comeback, and the Wildcats secured their first conference win of the season.
New Hampshire is back to it Tuesday night when they take on 5-0 Quinnipiac at Wildcat Stadium. O’Driscoll said the team is playing with confidence, and they’ll take that into Tuesday’s game.
“We’re confident that we can win any game we play,” said O’Driscoll. “Quinnipiac is another good undefeated team, and it will certainly be a good test for us, so we’re looking forward to it.”
The rest of Wildcat country should be looking forward to the undefeated showdown. It could be a packed house in Wildcat Stadium for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Bobcats at 6 p.m.
Photo courtesy of China Wong