Soccer

Columbus’ compact defensive lines made life difficult for the Atlanta attack. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

Atlanta United FC returned home and returned to form June 17 with a much needed 3-1 win against the visiting Columbus Crew SC. The win brings United’s record back up to .500, 6-6-3 on the season, and jumps them ahead two slots in the Eastern Conference standings, where they are now No. 6 with 21 points.

After Atlanta’s last homestand, in which United won two games by a combined score of 7-2, hopes were high that this team would finally find some consistency. Thus, when Atlanta lost its next two road games, June 3 against the Vancouver Whitecaps and June 10 against Chicago Fire, much of their confidence was lost. United leads the league with 31 goals this season, but failed to come away with more than one goal over the entire road trip.

“Whenever you win, you feel good; whenever you don’t, you question yourself,” veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “After those two road losses, we needed to get back to basics and there is no easier way to do that than to play at home.”

Two-game losing streak aside, Columbus’ road struggles and defensive shortcomings provided plenty of reason for optimism for United supporters. Entering Saturday’s match, Columbus had allowed the most goals in the Eastern conference (26) and had the most road losses of any MLS team (seven). Pair those weaknesses with Atlanta’s explosive offense and recent home dominance, and this looked like a match made in heaven for United.

Rain delayed the game by just under 30 minutes, yet Atlanta still appeared unprepared for the opening whistle. In the first 10 minutes, costly turnovers resulted in two excellent opportunities on goal for Columbus. However, Atlanta goalkeeper Alec Kann made the save each time, denying Columbus an early lead.

While Columbus had failed to capitalize on their earlier opportunities, Atlanta cashed in on a Columbus mistake in the 16th minute. Pressure from Atlanta midfielder Yamil Asad forced a turnover deep in the Columbus back line, allowing Asad to lay it off softly for cutting forward Tito Villalba, who had an easy finish into the lower left corner of the Crew goal. Asad’s assist gives him eight for the season, tying for the most in the MLS with Toronto midfielder Victor Vazquez.

The Atlanta lead was short-lived. In the 26th minute, a dipping cross found its way to Columbus midfielder Federico Higuain, who nimbly brought the ball down to his feet in a crowded Atlanta penalty box and pushed the ball off his outside foot, just past a lunging Kann. The goal tied the game at one, a score that would hold into halftime.

The first half was riddled with mistakes from both sides, and that trend continued into the second. Whether it was the waterlogged pitch or simply a lack of focus, neither team could get a solid grip on their attack, and both relied on errant passes to generate offense.

“Passing wasn’t sharp tonight,” Atlanta captain and center back Michael Parkhurst said. “Credit to Columbus for making it difficult for us. They dropped back and were very compact, making it difficult for us to play through their lines.”

 

Fans unfurled another pro-United banner prior to Saturday’s match. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

For a moment, it seemed as though the only bright spot of the second half would be the entry of Atlanta forward Josef Martinez. Competing in his first home game since he injured his left quad while playing with Venezuela’s national team in March, the crowd exploded when Martinez was subbed on for Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel in the 63rd minute.

While the crowd’s energy was at its highest, play on the field remained sloppy and the score was locked at 1-1.

That all changed in the 67th minute when Atlanta midfielder Miguel Almiron showed once again why he is one of the deadliest attackers in MLS. Collecting the ball at midfield following an excellent tackle from Atlanta center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Almiron put on the afterburners, bursting all the way to the Columbus 18-yard box. Almiron then calmly struck a low roller swiftly into the opposite corner, just between two Crew defenders and beyond the outstretched arm of Columbus goalkeeper Zack Steffen, giving Atlanta a critical 2-1 lead.

“I was a little fortunate on that play,” Almiron said humbly of his eighth goal this season. “It’s not like I tried to perfectly place it in that spot.”

With the slim advantage, Atlanta made a few defensive substitutions, hoping to hold off Columbus through the match’s final 20 minutes. But Atlanta’s offense wasn’t quite finished. In the 88th minute, midfielder Kevin Kratz sent a slick pass into the goalie box to a sitting Martinez, who collected the gift and blasted a screamer into the Crew goal, providing the exclamation point on a much-needed 3-1 victory.

“After the goal that I scored I was a little emotional, because before I came on I heard all the fans applauding me and chanting my name,” Martinez said. “I’m happy to get the goal tonight because we knew that … it was really important to get these three points at home.”

Colombus’ loss brings them to 2-7 on the road, tying them with Real Salt Lake for the most road losses of any team in the MLS. Away games have not been kind to many teams — across the league, the visitors have a 33-98-39 record. Why home teams are performing so well is something that MLS will need to investigate; but for now, home field advantage remains the single greatest factor of most MLS games this season.

This is a busy stretch for Atlanta, with three games over the span of eight days. They travel to last-place D.C. United June 21 before returning home for a matchup with western foe Colorado Rapids June 24.

Atlanta fans unfurl a banner proclaiming the superiority of peaches over apples. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

With their home match against New York City FC (NYCFC) May 28, Atlanta United FC capitalized on an opportunity for redemption after a 3-1 loss May 7 in New York. Atlanta’s emphatic 3-1 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium over the No. 3 team in the East standings brings their season record to 5-4-3 and brings them to No. 7 in the East with 18 points.

Now 12 games into their 34-game season, consistency has been the toughest hurdle for this Atlanta team, which started the season with the third youngest roster in the MLS. At 4-4-3, United has shown flashes of offensive brilliance interspersed with periods of carelessness on the ball and poor communication among the defensive line. That has lead to unpredictable results, from a 4-0 win March 18 over the current No. 2 team in the East, the Chicago Fire, to a 3-1 home loss against last place D.C. United April 30.

“[Major League Soccer] is a bit of a roller coaster,” technical director and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “For an expansion team, we are going to have to do a good job of not getting too high after this win.”

In their May 20 match, United exploded offensively with four goals in a victory over the visiting Houston Dynamo. Accounting for the strong performance in their prior home match, hopes were high that Atlanta could keep the wheels turning against NYCFC.

“Our game in New York City was our biggest disappointment of the year and we wanted to atone for that tonight,” center defender and team captain Michael Parkhurst said.

Given the absence of injured Atlanta forward Josef Martinez and Head Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who was suspended due to his ejection against Houston, Sunday’s matchup was set to be a battle of two attackers: Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron, whose hat trick against Houston earned him MLS Player of the Week honors, and NYCFC’s David Villa, the former World Cup Champion from Spain and last year’s MLS MVP.

“[Villa] is so crafty,” Parkhurst said. “He is a lot faster than you think. He just needs to get you a little off balance and he’s by you.”

Forward Yamil Asad lets loose a shot just outside the box. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

Early on, Atlanta showed determination to stretch the NYCFC defense, sending cross-pitch long balls as often as they could, while NYCFC exposed Atlanta’s high back line with a few well-placed through balls. Neither team would capitalize until the 16th minute, when Almiron struck.

Controlling the ball in the midfield, Almiron threaded a ball ahead to midfielder Julian Gressel. Gressel kindly returned the favor, skipping a difficult pass to a trailing Almiron, who calmly took a touch before drilling a shot just below the outstretched arm of NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

“[Almiron] brings speed, intelligence, and he is a really complete player,” forward Hector Villalba said. “He is able to bring a lot to our game: we are able to play quick touches and play the ball into space.”

It was at this point that Atlanta opened the floodgates, scoring all three of their goals in a seven-minute flurry. Three minutes after Almiron’s strike, Villalba received a through ball at the corner of the box from midfielder Yamil Asad. Villalba took a strong touch inside before blasting a screamer to the opposite post that easily beat Johnson for a 2-0 lead.

The onslaught resumed in the 23rd minute when Gressel bodied NYCFC defender Alexander Callens off the ball near the opposition’s end line. Gressel then dribbled inside before laying off another trailing pass to Almiron, whose sliding shot found its way into the opposite corner of the NYCFC goal. Almiron’s second goal, a mirror image of his first, gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead and had fans singing with glee just 25 minutes into the match.

“Our pressure up front was fantastic,” Parkhurst said. “When their guys don’t have time to pick up their heads, it makes [the defensive line’s] life a whole lot easier.”

With victory in sight, the remainder of the match was fraught with chippy play, but Atlanta handled the pressure well. A bending cross from NYCFC defender Ben Sweat found the foot of a cutting forward Jack Harrison for NYCFC’s lone goal in the 71st minute, but there was little panic in the Atlanta side. Atlanta goalkeeper (and Decatur native) Alec Kann produced a solid performance, making the necessary saves and helping set up the Atlanta attack with a keen distributive eye.

“We talk about the attackers doing so well and scoring a lot of goals, but it starts with [Kann], the defenders and the midfielders distributing it out up top so that these guys can score,” Bocanegra said.

With two of the match’s goals to his name, Almiron was given player of the game honors, but Gressel was equally deserving. His pressure, strength on the ball and ability to power through tough tackles shone more so in this game than it has all season and makes him yet another weapon opponents must address if they wish to slow down the Atlanta attack.

“I’m a versatile player,” Gressel said. “I am confident on the ball and want it at my feet. It is different kinds of things that set me apart from other players … [in this way] you find your way within the system and within the team.”

With two straight home wins under its belt, Atlanta will take to the road for a match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (5-5-1) June 3. United will then visit the Chicago Fire (7-3-3) June 10 before returning for their next home game against the Columbus Crew (6-7-1) June 17.

In what turned out to be their final game of the season, the Emory men’s soccer team fell short in a close match against the Yellowjackets of the University of Rochester (N.Y.), losing 1-0. The loss ended the Eagles’ season, who finished with a 10-5-1 record on the year, placing No. 4 in University Athletic Association (UAA) standings.

Playing in their fourth consecutive road match, the Eagles came into Saturday’s game knowing that their season could have very well been on the line. Both Emory and Rochester found themselves on the cusp of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, and both knew that a win on Saturday would likely put them into the tournament field.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, for much of Saturday’s game, the ball seemed to be bouncing in favor of the Yellowjackets. The match’s first and only goal came in the 29th minute, when Rochester freshman defender Cristian Baltier’s long throw-in found it’s way through a scrum and into the Emory goal, giving Rochester the early 1-0 lead.

“There was a lot of commotion in the box, and it went through into the goal,” junior center defender Cody Gardiner said. “We had been moving the ball really well up until that point, but it was just an unlucky goal, and there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

Not 10 minutes later, Gardiner managed to score a spectacular bicycle kick into the left corner. However, the play was called offside, stripping away what would have been the tying goal for the Eagles.

The Eagles continued to apply pressure on the Yellowjackets, including a shot from senior midfielder Scott Haley, who was able to play in the final couple games of the season despite an early season knee injury that was expected to sideline him for the rest of his senior year.

“We weren’t expecting to get [Haley] back, given how serious the knee injury was, so being able to play on the field with him for the last few games meant a lot,” Gardiner said.

With the clock dwindling down on the season, the Eagles put together one final push, with two shots on goal coming in the final 10 seconds. Both were saved by Rochester sophomore goalkeeper Patrick Conway, who finished the game with five saves and a clean sheet.  Conway’s efforts helped preserve the Yellowjackets’ 1-0 victory.

While the game’s result was disappointing, Head Coach Sonny Travis was pleased with his team’s effort and performance.

“As a coach, I’ve probably been [to Rochester] four or five times, and we have won a couple times, but this was the best I’ve seen us play at Rochester,” Travis said. “Our guys came ready to play Saturday night and really left it all on the field.”

NCAA tournament selection took place Monday. As many players suspected, the game against Rochester turned out to be a tournament play-in game, with Rochester managing to secure themselves a bid in the tournament and the Eagles finding themselves one of the first teams left out of the tournament field.

“We were definitely a bubble team,” Travis said. “We were still highly considered, but we needed a [win] in that last game.”

While their exclusion from the national tournament will sting for some time to come, the Eagles have a lot to be proud of this season. Ten wins is no small feat, and a few players contributed tremendous individual performances, including the likes of junior forward Jason McCartney and sophomore forward Moustafa Khattab. McCartney finished the year with seven goals and seven assists, while Khattab tallied five goals and four assists.

“Everyone is a little disappointed right now,” Gardiner said. “With the talent that we have, we were hoping to make the tournament and make a good run, but we had a lot of opportunities to give the young guys on our team some good experience this year, which will hopefully prepare us for next year.”

The Eagles will surely miss seniors Jason Andrejchak and Haley, but the team has a lot to look forward to next year when they will return almost the entirety of their current roster.

“The chemistry on our team and the hardworking mentality of our players really came through this year,” Travis said. “With the young group that we had, we had some growing pains, but other than the Brandeis [University] (Mass.) game [a 2-0 loss], we truly had a chance to win [every game]. We expect to bounce back from this setback, and I hope this lights a fire for our guys coming into 2017.”

In a road weekend heavy with the weight of postseason hopes, Emory’s men’s soccer returned home in uncertain fashion, losing 2-0 in their first match against Brandeis University (Mass.) (10-4-3) Friday before winning a close 1-0 battle over New York University (8-7-2).

The weekend results dropped Emory (10-4-1) to No. 3 in the University Athletic Association (UAA) standings, just behind No. 2 Brandeis. No. 1 University of Chicago (Ill.) clinched the league title with a win over Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) Sunday, dashing the Eagles’ hopes of a UAA title.

In their first match, the Eagles faced not only the Brandeis University Judges, but also the cold, rainy conditions of Waltham, Mass. The Eagles fell down early when Brandeis junior midfielder Christian Hernandez managed to get his head on a free kick in the 26th minute and give the Judges the 1-0 lead.

Unfortunately, the Eagles never managed to pressure the Judges, who completely shut down the high-tempo Eagle offense in the second half.

“You have to give Brandeis credit, because they played really well and stopped us from playing a possession game, which is what we like to play,” Head Coach Sonny Travis said.

After firing off six shots in the first half, the Judges prevented the Eagles from registering a single shot in the second. The dagger came in the 76th minute when senior defender Thales Brito finished a header off a corner kick to give the Judges a firm 2-0 victory.

“We definitely had some good chances in the second, but once they got the second goal, they broke the momentum to the end,” sophomore defender Aidan Datene said.

For the Eagles, Friday’s performance was frustrating.

“Brandeis definitely played better than us,” sophomore midfielder Moustafa Khattab said. “Brandeis is a good team, but we all agreed after the game that that was our worst performance of the year.”

In dire need of a win, the Eagles traveled to Riverdale, N.Y., to take on the N.Y.U. Violets Sunday. The match was dominated by Emory, but N.Y.U. managed to hang tight thanks in large part to an incredible performance by Violets’ senior goalkeeper Lucas Doucette, who notched 10 saves on the day to deny the Eagles any breathing room.

“He is the best goalkeeper in the conference,” Travis said. “He had a tremendous game, and [if not for him] I think it could have been 2-0 or 3-0 for us.”

Fortunately for the Eagles, a strong defensive effort, combined with a much needed goal from Khattab, proved enough to edge the Eagles to a 1-0 victory.

The scoring play began with junior center midfielder Adam Ferguson, who switched the ball across the pitch to Khattab, who proceeded to settle it, cut inside and finish into the corner.

The goal was Khattab’s second game-winner on the season, his first during the match against Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) Oct. 8., Travis said.

“[Khattab’s] goal against N.Y.U. was outstanding. It was a big time goal against a very good keeper,” Travis said. “It made [N.Y.U.] come out of their shell defensively, which helped, because if they were able to sit back and defend, they were going to be very effective with their keeper.”

The Eagles’ regular season will conclude next Saturday when the Eagles travel to Rochester University (N.Y.) (8-4-3).

“I think we will carry the momentum [from Sunday] moving forward, and I think we will step up against Rochester knowing that our season rides on that game,” Datene said.

The Emory women’s soccer team hosted Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) and Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) over the past weekend, securing a 4-0 win over Case Western Friday evening before succumbing to Carnegie Mellon 2-1 in overtime Sunday morning.

In the weekend opener, an exceptional first half inspired a win against Case Western. The Eagles controlled the game early on and opened the scoring in the fourth minute when freshman forward Shivani Beall outpaced the Spartan left back and delivered a tantalizing cross into the path of senior forward Cristina Ramirez, who tapped the ball into the back of the net.

Minutes later, the Eagles doubled their lead as Beall registered her second goal of the season when she put her boot through a cross from junior midfielder Melissa Ardizzone in the ninth minute. Case Western struggled to dismantle the Eagles’ defense and lost out in the battle of the midfield. Hence, Case Western was once again retrieving the ball from the back of their net in the 20th minute when Ramirez attained her second goal of the game, shooting the ball into an empty net after senior defender Hannah Meyer’s header from a corner kick bounced off the bar.

The Eagles looked comfortable; however, on one or two occasions they were lucky not to pay for silly mistakes. The most notable of these was in the 26th minute, when sophomore goalkeeper Danielle Staffin rushed to the edge of the 18-yard box to sweep a loose ball and shot the ball off the body of a Case Western forward, who then had a shot on an empty goal. Fortunately, Case Western’s shot hit the bar.

The expression “save the best for the last” applied to this game, as the final goal sent the crowd into a frenzy in the 39th minute. Freshman forward Caroline Kolski picked the ball up on the right side of the field, cut into the middle, maneuvering the ball through the legs of a Spartan defender in the process and beating three other opponents before finessing the ball with her left foot into the topmost left corner of the goal.

The second half was definitely a much closer contest, but the Eagles maintained their composure and secured a clean sheet and their eighth win of the season.

In the contest against Carnegie Mellon, the Eagles battled into overtime but lost after conceding a second goal in the 98th minute when Tartan freshman defender Emily Tolmer guided the ball into the back of Emory’s net from close range, following a corner from teammate freshman forward Sydney Webber.

The Eagles fell behind in the 22nd minute when Carnegie Mellon forward Sienna Stritter dispossessed an Emory midfielder in the middle of the park, dribbled past a number of Eagles and attempted a 30-yard scorcher, which blazed its way past Staffin. The Eagles, through a brilliant effort by Beall, equalised in the 38th minute. Beall received a through ball from junior midfielder Bahar Ulusan, dribbled past Carnegie Mellon’s straying goalkeeper and calmly put the ball into an empty net.

Senior forward Cristina Ramirez, who bagged the University Athletic Association (UAA) Athlete of the Week honor, expressed her happiness and stated that the weekend was one that taught the players how to deal with their remaining games this season.

“It’s definitely good to see that all the hardwork that has been put in over the past four years has been recognised, and I think this weekend we put on a good show and now know what we need to do going forward,” Ramirez said.

Despite losing, there were many positives in the game against Carnegie Mellon. Head Coach Sue Patberg revealed that she believed Carnegie Mellon was the  best opponent since Lynchburg College (Va.), and that the Eagles displayed their ability to fight.

“[Lynchburg] demolished us, but in this game it was obvious that we’d improved in our effort, our ability to play under pressure, and we were so much of a better team than back in September,” Patberg said.

The weekend’s results leave the Eagles 2-2 in the UAA and No. 3 behind Carnegie Mellon and University of Chicago (Ill.), who both hold records of 3-1. The Eagles return to action at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 when they face Brevard College (N.C.) at home.

This past weekend, University Athletic Association (UAA) men’s soccer play kicked into full gear, with Emory matching up against Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) Oct. 14 and Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) Oct. 16. In typical UAA fashion, the Eagles had to grind their way through extra time in both matches, playing a total of 220 minutes between the two matches, coming away with a 2-1 victory against Case Western (4-7-3) and settling for a 1-1 draw in their match with Carnegie Mellon (9-2-2). Emory is now 8-3-1 on the year, and sits safely in No. 2 in the UAA standings at 2-1-1, behind 4-0 University of Chicago (Ill.) (14-0).

In their Friday match against Case Western, the Eagles started out strongly with a goal from sophomore midfielder Moustafa Khattab. However, the Eagles settled for a few too many clearances in an attempt to make it into half with the lead, allowing Case Western senior midfielder Jacob Grindel to direct a cross just inside the left post to even the score at one with only 52 seconds remaining in the first half.

Emory controlled much of the second half, but the Eagles consistently came up empty on the offensive end. The team’s best chance came in the 55th minute, when Case Western’s junior goalkeeper Calvin Boyle denied junior midfielder Christian Meyer on a breakaway. After taking an excellent pass from junior forward Jason McCartney into open space, Meyer faked a shot to slip past the first defender, but couldn’t quite finish the job as Boyle made an excellent save to maintain the tie.

“[Case Western’s] goalkeeper did a really outstanding job against us,” Head Coach Sonny Travis said. “We were creating chances, but [Boyle] kept them in the game. He might be the best goalkeeper in the conference.”

The Eagles had one final chance before the end of regulation when Khattab spun into a back heel around his defender in the Case Western box, leading to a strong shot to the upper center of the goal, only to be saved by Boyle once again. The game remained 1-1 headed into overtime.

A frightening moment came four minutes into overtime when Case Western had an open look not more than seven yards out from goal. In yet another impressive save, junior keeper Jake Deuel came up big for the Eagles, making the diving stop to keep the Eagles alive.

The golden goal came in the second overtime period when an outside shot by Emory was deflected by a Case Western defender into the goal, giving Emory the hard-earned 2-1 victory.

The draining effects of Friday’s game may have had a lingering effect on the Eagles, as they came out a little slow against Carnegie Mellon and allowing the visiting Tartans to score a goal in the second minute of play.

“Carnegie Mellon came out with high energy and put a perfect ball into the back post,” sophomore defender Evan Floersch said. “I wouldn’t say we came out flat-footed; they just executed on their restart, and this conference is all about those restarts.”

This game may have been the most physical of the season, with a total of nine yellow cards dished out, including a red to Carnegie Mellon freshman midfielder Cooper Tubiana in the 47th minute. With the red, Carnegie Mellon was forced to play a man-down to close out the game.

The Eagles responded in the 34th minute when McCartney forced the ball into the back of the net following a mad scrum in front of the Tartan goal, tying the game at one.

Floersch had nothing but praise for the Tartan’s defensive effort.

“We are used to having a high-tempo offense, but you have to give a lot of credit to Carnegie playing with only 10 men,” Floersch said. “They packed it in and really disrupted our high-tempo offense.”

Unfortunately, the Eagles were unable to capitalize on their advantage, remaining scoreless through two overtime periods to finish with the 1-1 draw.

Despite some struggles offensively, Travis felt that the lack of scoring was not a serious concern.

“They were typical UAA games where you have to grind it out and it’s close and you don’t want to make mistakes,” Travis said. “We had our opportunities, we just didn’t put it away.”

The Eagles will close out the season with four consecutive games on the road. They will get a short respite from UAA play in their next match at Covenant College (Ga.) Oct. 22.

 

Believe it or not, a former professional athlete with a resume that boasts highlights such as experience playing in the World Cup, winning an MLS championship and earning two MLS Goalkeeper of the Year awards is on the coaching staff of one of Emory’s athletic programs. That person described above is Emory’s men’s soccer goalkeeping coach, Donovan Ricketts.

Born in St. James, Jamaica, Ricketts began his professional soccer career playing with Village United in 2002. Since then, Ricketts’ accolades include an MLS championship with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011 and MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2010 and 2013. Ricketts also spent significant time playing internationally with the Jamaican National Team, accumulating over 100 caps and making it as a member of Jamaica’s 1998 World Cup roster.

Ricketts’ announcement that he would be coming to Emory to serve as the men’s goalkeeping coach this past year was fairly unexpected. But for Ricketts, it was an easy decision.

“I wanted to see [what the coaching experience] would be like, and a friend of mine is an alumn[us] at Emory, so the opportunity was there when Emory needed a goalkeeping coach, and the pieces all came together,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts last played professionally in 2015, making his transition from playing to coaching a short one, but coaching has always been a goal for the former MLS goalkeeper.

“As a player, coaching is one of those things you want to have a chance at in your career. [The most challenging part of the changeover to coaching is that] I take responsibility for the goalkeepers I have, because the way they perform is a reflection of the work we do in the week,” Ricketts said.

However, Ricketts’ quick transition from playing to coaching provides him with a distinct advantage in his ability to relate with the players on Emory’s team.

“He was a player a year ago, so he still has that player mindset, and he interacts with us as if he was one of us, as if he is part of the team,” junior goalkeeper Jake Deuel said. “He cracks jokes with us, makes fun of us … The way he has been able to come right in and fit in with the team has been really cool.”

The intense competition for the team’s starting goalkeeper position only adds to the intrigue of Ricketts’ entry. So far, three keepers have seen time in goal for the Eagles, with a fourth ready to prove himself. Having multiple keepers ready and able to compete has been one of Ricketts’ primary goals this year, a task in which he has thus far had significant success.

For the keepers working with Ricketts, this is an experience they will not soon forget. Junior Graham Labran-Boyd, from Los Angeles, Calif., has long been familiar with Ricketts.

“It’s honestly crazy, because I’m from [Los Angeles] and I used to watch him play,” Labran-Boyd said. “He has played in England and Europe, he has played in the MLS, he has played for the national team, he has played in the World Cup … It’s tough to ask for a coach with better experience than that.”

Despite his impressive pedigree, Ricketts brings a humble approach with his coaching technique.

“A lot of goalie trainers have their style [of play], and they try to instill that into their players, while Ricketts understands that there are different ways to play the position. He is more focused on helping us improve on what we need to improve on, rather than getting exactly [the style] he wants,” Labran-Boyd said.

As a coach, Ricketts combines his hands-off approach with an attitude of intensity and high expectations.

“[Ricketts] demands a high level of play just from the way he serves the ball to us and the pace that they come in,” Deuel said.  “Day one, he said he wants us to catch every ball that comes at us. He really cares about the development of the goalies and wants us to get better. He wants us to win just as bad as we want to win.”

For both the players and the coaching staff, Ricketts brings an indispensable level of knowledge and insight.

“When [Ricketts] says something, the players really respond, and as a coach, having him to bounce things off of and hear what he sees is invaluable,” Head Coach Sonny Travis said.

Currently in his first year as a coach, it is difficult to say how long Ricketts’ tenure at Emory may last, given his status as a player, but as it stands, he is excited to be a part of the Emory program.

“I do not know what the future holds,” Ricketts said. “But for now, I am happy here, and I am comfortable here.”

 

Emory’s women’s soccer team emphatically rebounded from two consecutive losses at the Roanoke (Va.) Invitational with a convincing 4-0 defeat of regional rival Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.)  Friday.

Going into the match, both teams were trying to break out of a slump — Emory had lost their past two games while Birmingham had lost their last three.

The entirety of the encounter saw Emory dominate. The Eagles opened their account in the 12th minute when sophomore midfielder Madison Phaneuf netted her first career goal. Phaneuf’s effort was one to remember, as she blazed the net with a long-distance cracker off an assist from junior midfielder Melissa Ardizzone.

Seven minutes later, Phaneuf was in the thick of the action again. This time, she provided the assist for sophomore forward Abbe McCarter, who lobbed the ball over the head of Birmingham-Southern’s goalkeeper Ansley Tomlin, doubling Emory’s lead.

Despite being ahead by two goals at halftime, the Eagles were far from done. They returned to the pitch with fire in their bellies at the start of the second half, and within 10 minutes had put the game beyond reasonable doubt with a third goal.

The third effort was steered in by sophomore forward Grace Edgarton following a shot that came off the post. The fourth and final goal came three minutes later when sophomore forward Danielle Darius buried the ball in the Birmingham-Southern net off a well-worked possession from sophomore forward Sophia Dillon and freshman forward Shivani Beall.

The Eagles’ performance was impressive, to say the least, as the Eagles shut out the Panthers and ensured that freshman goalkeeper Haley Pratt remained untested throughout the duration of the game and recorded her first clean sheet.

Head Coach Sue Patberg was moved by how Emory controlled the game and particularly highlighted the second half as the more exciting half.

“The second half was significantly more interesting, as we created a lot more opportunities and raised the level of our game,” Patberg said. “Overall, we had no defensive breakdowns and altogether regained some confidence in ourselves after two losses in Virginia.”

Phaneuf admitted that the Eagles were  indeed disappointed by their prior performances and saw the trip to Alabama as an opportunity to redeem themselves.

“We were really just looking to increase our confidence, play good soccer and score some goals so that when we go into our [University Athletic Association (UAA)] conference, we’re able to take on some of those tougher teams like Washington University (Mo.) and University of Chicago (Ill.).”

The Eagles will look to build on Friday’s performance when they host Berry College (Ga.) at the WoodPEC Wednesday.

For the third straight weekend, men’s soccer faced back-to-back games, but unlike the two invitationals that started the season, Emory finally put together a complete weekend. The Eagles came away with a 2-1 win at Berry College (Ga.) Friday, followed by a 3-2 victory at home against local rival Oglethorpe University (Ga.) Saturday.

Emory finished their three-game travel stint on a high point at Berry. The first goal of the game came from a rather unexpected source, as junior center back Cody Gardiner finished a header off a corner from sophomore forward Moustafa Khattab.

With Emory clinging to the 1-0 lead at half, Berry came out strong to start the second: Berry sophomore forward Steven Moore slipped a goal past junior goalkeeper Jake Deuel, tying the game at one apiece.

The tie was broken in the 71st minute when junior forward Jason McCartney gave Emory the 2-1 advantage, a lead they would not relinquish as they closed out the tough win.

“Berry beat a very good [University of Mary Washington (Va.)] team, and we were playing there the first night they had lights, so they had a big crowd, and I think our guys responded with a lot of grit,” said Head Coach Sonny Travis.

There was little time to celebrate before their match against Oglethorpe, but for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Eagles enjoyed home-field advantage.

Oglethorpe came out firing and, for the first time all season, Emory failed to score first. The Oglethorpe Stormy Petrels took the lead with a header from senior midfielder Gustavo Martinez in just the third minute.

Unused to facing such an early deficit, the Eagles showed no signs of panic. In fact, the Eagles rolled from then on, scoring three consecutive goals over the next 50 minutes. Their response was swift, as sophomore outside defender Evan Floersch found the back of Oglethorpe’s net just a minute after the Stormy Petrels’ initial goal, tying the game. Emory’s second and third goals came from senior center defender and captain Scott Haley in the 28th minute and sophomore forward Moustafa Khattab in the 53rd minute, respectively.

Oglethorpe hung around, even managing to net a goal in the 83rd minute, but in the end it was too little, too late, as the Eagles held on for the 3-2 victory. The win brought the Eagles up to 4-2 on the season.

Following a difficult loss on the road against North Carolina Wesleyan College last weekend, Travis was highly optimistic about the team’s performance and progress this past weekend. With two additional tough wins under their belt, the Eagles have to be feeling optimistic about the progress they have made.

“I thought we had a lot of good moments this past weekend. I think our team is really progressing, getting better, figuring some things out, and defensively is strong. These are two games we really finished out,” Travis said.

Khattab pointed to the team’s improved mindset as a key factor in their success.

“Our attitude as a team has been much better this year. Even in games where we are down, we are still fighting to the end and finishing strong,” he said.

Offensively, the Eagles have played spectacularly.

“We struggled to score last year, so we wanted to focus on our offense this year, and a lot of guys have really stepped up,” Khattab said.

Unfortunately, the weekend ultimately ended on a sour note, as Haley suffered a torn meniscus during the game against Oglethorpe and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

“Even outside of the soccer aspect, [Haley] is our captain, and we will miss that leadership,” Travis said.

The loss of Haley is huge, but the team remains resilient.

“We will try and go as far as we can this season and do it for [Haley],” Khattab promised.

The Eagles will face off at home against Sewanee: The University of the South (Tenn.) tonight at 7:30 p.m.