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Conor Bradley keeps Villanova rolling with late winner over Penn State

Havertown native spoiled his former Union Academy coach Jeff Cook’s return to the area on Saturday

Conor Bradley celebrates his 73rd minute goal against Penn State on September 8, 2018
Matt Ralph

While he was more of a goal-scorer in his high school and academy days, Villanova midfielder Conor Bradley has turned into the type of player who is relied on for a lot of the dirty work that never shows up on the score sheet.

That all changed Saturday against Penn State when Bradley pounced on a deflected shot in the box and tucked a low shot into the left corner of the net in the 73rd minute. The goal was just his second in his college career and first since 2016 for the former Philadelphia Union Academy and Haverford School standout.

“I knew it was coming, every time I tell my mom I’m going to score one it’s going to come and then it opened up and I tucked it home,” Bradley said after the match on Saturday.

The goal held up as the winner for the Wildcats, which improved to 4-1-0 on the season and moved up two spots to 13 in the United Soccer Coaches weekly poll.

The game was originally scheduled to take place at Talen Energy Stadium on Friday night but was moved to Higgins Soccer Complex a day later because of rain.

Bradley, who spent time in the Union Academy with twin brother and Nova teammate Shane Bradley and senior midfielder Zach Zandi, would of course have preferred to score his winner at the home of the Philadelphia Union. But getting to score against his former Union Academy coach, first-year Penn State head coach Jeff Cook, added extra meaning to the day.

“I have so much respect for him because he helped me become a better player and get to ‘Nova,” Bradley said. “It’s amazing playing against him now and even getting one.”

Zandi and fellow Union Academy alumnus Jeremy Rafanello traded goals in the first half of the match. Zandi, a West Chester native and Penn Fusion alum who spent his last two years of high school with the Union, leads the Wildcats with four goals and two assists on the year while Rafanello, a freshman from Delran, N.J. who played for Continental FC prior to joining the Union, connected with his second of the season.

Conor Bradley was honored by the Big East for his defensive work last week with the Defensive Player of the Week and received the same superlative from the Philly Soccer Six. He and his teammates next head to Marquette to kick off Big East play this Saturday before returning home for games against La Salle and Creighton.

Photo Gallery from Villanova vs Penn State game

Here are some other standout performances from players with connections to the Philadelphia area over the past week:

-Philadelphia Union Academy alum Ivy Brisma set up the game-winning goal for NC State in a 1-0 win over Quinnipiac on Tuesday. The assist was his second of the season to go with a goal.

-Union Academy alum Tiger Graham (Paoli, Pa.) opened his 2018 account with a brace in Dartmouth’s 2-2 draw with Boston University on Tuesday. Graham scored twice as a freshman last season.

-Union Academy alum Nyk Sessock (Philadelphia, Pa.) made his first start at right back and played well in Pitt’s heartbreaking 2-1 loss to North Carolina.

-Union Academy alum Lamine Conte (Philadelphia, Pa.) impressed anchoring the Louisville defense in a 3-0 win over second-ranked Duke (with academy alums Seth Kuhn and Issa Rayyan in the starting XI) on Sunday.

-Union Academy alum Pat Berneski (Warrington, Pa.) scored for the fourth straight game in Notre Dame’s 3-2 win at Syracuse on Friday, but his scoring streak ended with a 2-1 loss at home to Indiana on Tuesday.

-Continental FC alum Kevin Smolyn (Holland, Pa.) scored his first collegiate goal in a 3-2 loss to NJIT last week.

-Continental FC and Union Academy alum Leon Maric (Gilbertsville, Pa.) scored his fourth of the season for Saint Joseph’s in a 2-0 win over Navy on Tuesday.

-Union Academy alum Isaiah Holquist (Bala Cynwyd, Pa.) scored his second career college goal for the University of Chicago in a 4-2 win over local rival North Park.

-Joseph Fala (Cape May Court House, N.J.) is among the leading goal-scorers in Division III with six in his first three games of the season for Ramapo College.

-Union Academy and Continental FC alum Ramzi Qawasmy (Lansdale, Pa.) has played all but 14 minutes so far this season as a freshman center back at Providence.

What did I miss last week? Send updates and story ideas to matthew.r.ralph@gmail.com.