Junior midfielder Tyler Walsh fights for a loose ball in the Eagles’ 1-0 victory over Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.) Sept. 2. Kevin Kilgour/Sports Editor

With two home games in the Sonny Carter Invitational to start off their 2017 campaign, the Emory men’s soccer team had its sights set on a 2-0 start. The Eagles delivered in their first game, defeating North Carolina Wesleyan University 3-0 Sept. 1, before a narrow escape past Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.) 1-0 Sept. 2.

The Eagles didn’t wait long to showcase their offensive potential, striking first in the 24th minute off a free kick from junior midfielder Moustaffa Khattab. They doubled their lead just 12 minutes later, after a pass from senior midfielder Christian Meyer found the feet of senior forward Jason McCartney deep inside the Wesleyan box for a simple tap-in finish. The Eagles took a commanding 2-0 lead into halftime.

“We wanted to get off to an early start and try and press [Wesleyan] a little bit higher and get an early goal,” Interim Head Coach Cory Greiner said.

Wesleyan took better control over possession in the second half, but once again Emory found the back of the net. With 29 minutes remaining, senior center midfielder Adam Ferguson placed a corner kick just over the penalty spot. The cross found the head of McCartney, who placed the ball into the upper 90 for his second goal and enabled Emory to cruise to a 3-0 victory.

Barely 24 hours later, the Eagles found themselves back on the field for their second match of the Sonny Carter Invitational against Pacific Lutheran University. Once again the Eagles took an early lead but struggled to hold off a Pacific Lutheran team hungry for its first win of the season.

The Eagles’ goal came from an unlikely source, as senior center back Cody Gardiner placed a low, corner shot past the outstretched arm of Pacific junior goalkeeper RJ Noll. Much credit goes to Gardiner’s fellow defender junior Aidan Datene, who slipped past a Pacific defender along the end line and delivered the critical assist just 12 minutes into the match.

“I checked my shoulder and saw that only one guy was behind me, so I immediately thought, ‘If I can turn, I’m just going to try and get by him,’” Datene said. “I was able to do that and then the first white shirt I saw, I put a pass in as hard as I could.”

Taking the 1-0 lead into halftime, the Eagles looked poised to build on their lead after a dominant first half, during which they outshot the visiting Lutes 12 to two. The Lutes had other plans.

Not more than five minutes into the second half, the Lutes blasted a shot that found its way straight into the far post, narrowly missing what would have been a game-tying goal.

“They started throwing some extra players forward and taking some risks,” Greiner said. “When we didn’t score in that first portion of the second half, they still had some life and started taking those chances.”

The Lutes continued to apply pressure, especially in the final 20 minutes of the half, as both sides of the field opened up due to what was likely a combination of both fatigue and aggressive offensive play.

With eight shots in the second half, the Lutes gave themselves multiple opportunities to tie up the match but failed to capitalize. One of the game’s best chances came with only one minute remaining when Pacific senior forward Eddie Na found himself on a breakaway up the left sideline. With a clear shooting lane available inside the box, Na elected to instead pass to a cutting Lute attacker. This decision was ill-advised, as two dropping Emory defenders closed the passing lane and cleared the ball to preserve the 1-0 victory.

“We did capitalize pretty well, but our whole team felt that their were some areas to improve,” Meyer said. “As a group, we are still capable of playing much better than we have so far.”

The weekend’s shaky conclusion leaves the Eagles with concerns, but the team’s defensive unit has to be pleased with their performance. The veteran leadership of Gardiner, senior central defender Georges Daoud and Datene held strong, preserving two shutouts through the Eagles’ first two games.

“There is definitely a lot of chemistry this year: I’ve played with [Daoud] and [Gardiner], and then the left back position we have guys that can come in and play at a really high level,” Datene said.

One key addition to that defensive unit is junior defender Tyler Santee, a recent transfer from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Santee sat just between the back defensive line and the midfield unit, holding a sort of stopper position that seemed to take significant pressure off the back line.

“[Santee] had a fantastic game Saturday just cleaning up behind our midfielders and in front of our back four,” Greiner said. “At [University of North Carolina at] Pembroke, he had primarily been a central defender … but he has the size, he has the pace, he reads the game really well and I think he is capable of stepping in the midfield and having a little more impact for us in that position.”

With two wins under its belt, Emory claimed the tournament title and will happily advance to the next weekend of play with a 2-0 record. The Eagles face yet another back-to-back schedule this weekend in the Washington & Lee Invitational, challenging Washington & Lee University (Va.) Sept. 9, before a meeting with Randolph College (Va.) Sept. 10.