VESTAL, N.Y. — The battle for the top of the America East (AE) wasn’t much of a fight for University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer (12-0-0, 4-0-0). The undefeated Wildcats made easy work of the Binghamton Bearcats (7-3-1, 2-1-0). The would-be usurpers quickly learned why the ‘Cats wear the crown in the conference. The reigning AE champs put Binghamton to the sword by a final of 4-1 and proved that the conference is once again theirs for the taking.
UNH broke open the scoring in the 26th minute. Sophomore Bilal Kamal lashed an in-swinging cross that found the head of graduate student Paul Mayer. Mayer deftly flicked the ball into the far corner. Binghamton redshirt junior keeper PJ Parker was rooted to the spot and watched helplessly as the ball hit the far post and ricocheted into the back of the net.
The goal was indicative of the match’s opening half. UNH never felt threatened and looked comfortable throughout. As has become a habit recently, the ‘Cats scored their next two in quick succession.
UNH added their second goal just two minutes into the second half. Graduate student Linus Fallberg buried the ball in the back of the Bearcats’ net with a lovely finish to a clinical UNH attacking move.
Seconds later, Mayer dashed to the corner in celebration for the second time that night after a lightning-quick counter from back to front. The goal was the epitome of head coach Marc Hubbard’s tactical style. Fifth-year center back Bridger Hanson launched a ball from just outside his own box to fellow grad student Victor Menudier. Menudier connected with Mayer as he was streaking to the box. Mayer tucked the ball in at the far post, and in the blink of an eye, UNH was up 3-0. Binghamton looked shell-shocked as the game was suddenly all but decided in the 47th minute.
The two goals gave UNH their fourth game in a row with three or more goals after failing to reach the mark in their first seven competitions.
Sophomore defender Liam Bennett said it’s been crazy to see the explosion of offense from the team.
“The forwards are just working every single day to prove themselves to the coaches and the whole nation,” said Bennett. “I haven’t seen that number of goals in the past two years. Hopefully, we can just keep doing that.”
Binghamton got one past junior keeper Jassem Koleilat in the 82nd minute, but what little consolation the goal brought was diminished by sophomore Eli Goldman’s finisher in the 89th minute. Mayer did most of the work for the goal and got himself an assist to round out his stellar performance.
What the game truly proved was the disparity between UNH and the rest of their conference. Binghamton was hoping to be the next best thing to the Wildcats in the America East this season. They might still be, but the gulf between the two makes the achievement moot. UNH didn’t look challenged Saturday night. They looked cool, comfortable and in control. And that’s what they are this season, in control. The ‘Cats have their claws on the throat of the conference once again. They can draw blood at will, and a fourth straight title looks destined to come home to Durham.
With that expectation, of course, there is pressure. When you’re on top, everyone is coming for you. One slip-up could sour this season tremendously.
“The pressure is on us now,” said Bennett. “Every team wants to knock us out. We’re just going to try and keep playing our game and keep doing the things we have to do to be successful.”
UNH doesn’t look like they’re going to falter, however. Coach Hubbard has said his goal is to win a national championship with this team. That goal is only looking more and more attainable as the season progresses.
New Hampshire can’t get too ahead of themselves, though. Bennett emphasized that it’s a one game at a time mentality for the ‘Cats this year. Yale will come to town Tuesday and Vermont, who is now tied for second in the AE standings, will come with everything they have Saturday in a rematch of last season’s AE Championship.
Photo courtesy of China Wong