McCarthy Stadium has been a welcome site over the past week for the La Salle men’s soccer team as their fortunes have turned around with three straight wins over an eight-day span.
“I’m a big believer in momentum, especially in college soccer with two games a week,” head coach Rob Irvine said Thursday. “Sometimes you aren’t as good or as poor as your record suggests.”
For the Explorers, which dropped three straight on the road after a tough 5-4 overtime loss at home to start the season, the 0-4-0 record was mostly the fault of the team’s failure on set piece defense. Of the 13 goals they have surrendered this season, 10 have been on restarts.
“We’re not the biggest team and match-ups are an issue,” Irvine said.
Two games over the first weekend in September in Chicago didn’t help the cause as the Explorers dropped games to DePaul and Loyola Chicago. After a 5-1-0 start in his first season in 2016, Irvine told his team, “We’re not an 0-4 team, we’re just in a bad patch.”
They proved it late in the second half against Saint Peter’s when Johnny Ciarlante headed home a corner kick from Matt Robinson to open the scoring an hour in and freshman Soji Olatoye scored on a header off a ball from Zach Rutherford.
Three nights later it was Robinson opening the scoring in early in the second half and Olatoye linking with Kenny Lassiter in the 72nd minute to stake the Explorers to a 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish against Lafayette.
Last night it was Robinson and Olatoye’s goals that put the game out of reach for Penn following Mike Liska’s opening goal in the 12th minute.
Robinson, a fifth-year player from Lansdale, leads the team with four goals and three assists after his volley from the top of the box put the Explorers up 2-0 last night.
“He’s at his best when he’s buzzing around,” Irvine said.
Olatoye, a freshman from Canada, has contributed on the score sheet with three goals and a pair of assists, but it is the former Sigma FC standout’s play off the ball that has impressed Irvine.
“When you look at him it’s obvious to see he has the pace,” Irvine said. “But the one thing that makes him really effective is his work rate. He works both sides of the ball. He is excellent in his ability on the defensive side and works really hard to get the ball back.”
On the defensive side, sophomore goalkeeper Mark Tobin has stepped in for starter Cam Keys and recorded a pair of clean sheets and made 14 saves while surrendering just one goal over the past three matches.
La Salle will look to stretch their win streak to four back at McCarthy on Saturday against a team riding its own four-game streak in Hartwick. That they are just the third team La Salle will face this season with a winning record shows there is still a lot of work to be done.
“The challenge now is stacking good performances on top of good performances,” Irvine said.