This past weekend in the Atlanta summer heat, the Emory men’s soccer team faced off against St. Joseph’s College (N.Y.) and Denison University (Ohio) in the Sonny Carter Invitational. Despite a solid performance, the Eagles saw their championship hopes end on a controversial call.

Emory put together a fantastic show in their first game against the St. Joseph’s Golden Eagles, winning 7-1. In the seventh minute, St. Joseph’s junior midfielder Justin Heredia put his team on the scoreboard with a header off a corner from fellow junior midfielder Dan Cheeseman.

From there, Emory dominated the match.

Emory senior striker Sebastian Hardington and sophomore midfielder/striker Christian Meyer both proceeded to score two goals each, and sophomore midfielder Dan Busichio, junior midfielder/striker Max Gomas and junior midfielder Darion Morgan added to the barrage. In total Emory scored seven unanswered goals to turn the initial 1-0 deficit into a 7-1 victory.

The Eagles outmatched St. Joseph’s in time of possession, shots (24-2), shots on goal (14-2) and corner kicks (8-2).

Head Coach Sonny Travis said he was pleased with the result but still thinks there is room for improvement.

The team’s second match against the Denison Big Red proved to be much more of a challenge. Denison set the tempo for this back-and-forth affair by scoring almost immediately on a goal from freshman defender Karch Majtenyi just before the second minute.

The Eagles rebounded quickly with a pair of chances that barely missed, including an ambitious and creative free kick attempt by Meyer, but the Eagles finally broke through on a goal from Hardington.

The senior striker split two defenders, leaving him one-on-one with the goalkeeper. His initial shot was saved, but the rebound ricocheted back towards him, and he clinically headed the loose ball into the net for the equalizer.

Both teams had chances as the game progressed but failed to capitalize. Emory sophomore midfielder Jason McCartney had a header land just wide of the mark in the 24th minute; Denison sophomore midfield Jake Girardot had a laser shot from just outside of the box that ended up missing by mere feet in the 32nd minute.

The back and forth affair continued into the second half. Both teams’ midfield continued to dominate the ball and there were few shots on goal from either team. The Eagles almost took the lead on a shot from McCartney on a cross that was perfectly weighted from the right wing by junior midfielder/forward Jason Andrejchak. The shot, fired near the 12-yard penalty spot, was saved on a fully extended dive by Denison senior goalkeeper Blake Schach.

The game was evenly matched throughout, and with two minutes left, it looked as though extra time was inevitable. However, on a controversial call, Denison freshman striker Christian Keiper was clipped in the box, and the Big Red were awarded a penalty kick.

The referee’s call left a foul taste in the mouths of some.

“I think that there was some contact by our defender, but I think [Keiper] was a good actor,” Travis said. “He embellished it as much as he could have. I’m not saying it wasn’t a penalty kick, because I think there might have been some contact. I just thought, one minute left, it’s a tough call to lose the game on.”

Keiper felt differently, stating, “It was a clean foul.”

Sophomore defender Jordan Williams slotted the penalty kick past the outstretched arms of Emory senior goalkeeper Abe Hannigan with about 1:15 left on the clock, giving Denison the lead.

The score would remain 2-1, with Denison crowned the champions of the Sonny Carter Invitational, handing Emory their first loss of the season in a heartbreaking fashion.

Despite the team’s loss, Travis is optimistic about the rest of the season.

“We had the better part of possession, we had the most opportunities,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of not letting teams hang around. We need to be better with our killer instinct in the attacking third. There’s always room to improve.”

The Eagles are looking to improve in their next game away on Friday, Sept. 11, when they will face Centre College (Ky.) at 7:30 p.m. in the first game of the 26th Annual Bob Allen Nissan Classic.

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Avery Yang is a College sophomore from Los Angeles, California, by way of New York City.