It had been a long time since Eoin Gawronski had started a game when he stepped into the Temple lineup last weekend to face the No. 2 team in the nation in SMU. Way too long.
The Limerick, Pa. native and YSC Academy grad redshirted his first year with Louisville City FC goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre the everyday starter and was preparing to get valuable minutes last spring when the coronavirus shut everything down after one spring game.
“I haven’t played 90 in two years so it was all about proving where I stand and how well I can play,” Gawronski said. “During training all week I worked hard on making saves and just being confident.”
It was understandable for the former Philadelphia Union Academy and FC Delco goalkeeper to have some nerves facing the No. 2 team in the nation heading into Saturday night’s bout at Temple Sports Complex. The Mustangs were outscoring opponents 14-0 going into the game and Gawronski was coming off a 45-minute appearance for his college debut in his first competitive action since 2019.
The Owls were also on a three-game losing streak after opening the season with a win at South Florida but an early goal from Mike Eijgendaal paved the way for a historic night. Gawronski was tested soon after the goal off a corner kick but was able to make the stop and keep his head in the game even as frustrations rose and tempers flared in a six-save performance.
When the whistle finally sounded on a game reduced to 10v9 by three red cards Gawronski had not only his first collegiate clean sheet but one of the biggest in program history. It was the first time Temple has ever beaten a top five-ranked team.
With spectators still not allowed into the match, Gawronski had to settle for hearing his family and friends congratulating him from outside the iron-barred fence when the game ended.
“The win is huge,” Gawronski said. “It changed the vibe in the locker room. Everyone has belief now and hope.”
Saturday night was next level in North Philly pic.twitter.com/eL3i9o2Y98— Temple Men's Soccer (@Temple_MSoc) March 8, 2021
Head coach Brian Rowland, a former professional goalkeeper, said they’ve had high hopes for Gawronski since he joined the program last year and thought the time was right for a change with the team mired in a slump. Niko Hartmann started the first four matches of the season and was named to the American Athletic honor roll for both of his first two starts. YSC Academy grad Liam Cummings rounds out the goalkeeping corps.
“Eoin has done very well and we were confident that he would come in and give us a steady presence,” Rowland said. “He did that even in the second half of the South Florida game, I thought he was very good.”
Gawronski was named American Athletic goalkeeper of the week for his efforts while Eijgendaal received honors for offensive player of the week and captain Pierre Cayet defensive honors. Cayet anchors an experienced back line that Gawronski said made his job much easier stepping in against such a dominant attack.
“It’s a full experienced backline of all seniors so it’s super helpful for me because with no experience it’s hard but they push me and they believe in me,” Gawronski said. “It’s ultimately down to me but I feel confident when I’m playing with all of them.”
The relationship Gawronski has formed with his back line, which includes fifth-year senior Brandon Johnson, left back Esteban Suarez and right back Mickael Borger, dates back to the fall of 2019 when he was able to integrate into the team, learn the system and adjust to college life. After Lefebvre left to turn professional, the spring was shaping up to be a big opportunity for him but like for so many college soccer players, the pandemic put an end to competitive soccer for over a year.
While Gawronski was able to train with his teammates in the fall, an injury kept him out in the run-up to the season finally starting last month.
“I sat back for three, three and a half weeks of not playing, missed all the friendlies before the season,” Gawronski said. “But I just continued to push and train trying to prove myself, and ultimately earn my opportunity. So it’s just been a lot of hard work.”
With a signature win under their belt, the Owls head to Oklahoma to face Tulsa on Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN+) searching for more points in a tight conference race.
Rowland said despite the strangeness of the season — Tulsa has played three conference games to Temple’s five so far — the focus remains on establishing a rhythm and building on performances like the one against SMU, which they will rematch in Dallas to end the regular season on April 9.
“Hopefully we can continue to learn about our group and continue to figure out how to put really good performances together,” Rowland said. “I thought Saturday was our most complete performance yet.”