It’s a shame these games don’t count. Villanova continued their strong spring showing with a third straight victory over Syracuse at home on Saturday.
Philadelphia Union Academy grad Zach Zandi scored for the second time this spring and rising sophomore Yusuf Cueceoglu converted his third penalty kick to lead the Wildcats to the 2-0 win.
Coming on the heels of a 3-2 home win over Bethlehem Steel FC and a 1-0 win on the road at Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Villanova was able to push the tempo and get an early goal from Zandi through strong combination play. The insurance goal came in the latter part of the second half after Kian Zapata set up Cueceoglu in the box and the German drew the whistle.
“These guys battled,” head coach Tom Carlin said after the game. “Luca Mellor played great. Nikkye and Camacho, they battled hard, Carson Williams had another great game. They just keep fighting, they keep believing. They made some mistakes but continued to play through it. The group has good resilience right now.”
Center back Shane Bradley went down early with an injury which left a back three of Mellor, Nikkye DePoint and Andres Camacho with Sean Teixeira and Richie Schlentz pushing forward into the attack as wing backs. Mellor had a limited role with the team in his first year after transferring from Pitt, making just one start and nine appearances.
“We’ve definitely developed this spring a lot even from the first game,” said Mellor, a Manchester, England, native who is entering his junior season this fall. “We’ve been playing as a unit, defending really well, that’s what we’ve been focusing on in training.”
The Orange beat the Wildcats in Syracuse, 2-1, in their last meeting in a preseason match last August. Though just a friendly, the game had a number of fouls and a few skirmishes between players.
Carlin said he was happy to see how his players responded to the physicality of the Orange.
“It’s focus and fight,” Carlin said of the group. “Last year we didn’t have that down the stretch. Just in games like this where we can create chances and be on the right end of physical encounters and then get our combinations going. We’ve been showing that. Even Pittsburgh Riverhounds, they outplayed us but we stole one on the road.”
Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre said his team was second best on the day in their first spring match against a college opponent after losing 2-0 to Bethlehem Steel FC and playing professional squads on a trip to Spain.
“These are good tests,” McIntyre said. “Tom’s got a good strong, physical team. We’ll learn some hard lessons from games like today. We realized that we’ve gotta get better and keep working on it but I thought the best team won.”
The Orange also featured Reading United alums Kamal Miller in the back and Hugo Delhommelle in the midfield along with Langhorne native Dylan McDonald, who subbed into the game as the right center back in a back three McIntyre was trying out. McDonald made just one start and two appearances in his first season last fall. He was one of 14 freshmen on the Orange roster last season.
“These are good chances for our guys who perhaps didn’t play as much in the fall to kind of showcase themselves and show what they can do when we throw them into the fire,” McIntyre said.
Up next for the Wildcats is a Philly Soccer Six date with Penn at Penn Park on April 7 at 7 p.m. before traveling to College Park, Md. to take on the University of Maryland on April 15.