BETHLEHEM, Pa. – A second half goal by Bucknell proved enough as the Lehigh men’s soccer team dropped its Patriot League opener to the Bison, 1-0, on Sunday night at the Ulrich Sports Complex. The Mountain Hawks had multiple scoring opportunities but could not find the back of the net despite seven shots on goal and stellar defensive play.
"We played as well as we hoped we would play," said head coach Dean Koski. "We executed our game plan to the letter and generated 18 shots. When you get 18 looks at goal, that’s pretty good for Patriot League competition. We did everything but finish off in the moment."
The beginning of the first half started with the Bison pressuring the Mountain Hawk defense, testing junior goalkeeper Ciaran Nugent two times, but Nugent was up for the task, making both saves including a sliding stop on a shot from about 10 yards out off the foot of senior Brendan Burgdorf. The Bisons’ best scoring opportunity came when freshman Connor Willings ripped a shot from about 25 yards out, but Nugent was able to tip the ball just over the crossbar and out of play to keep the game at a 0-0 draw.
The Lehigh offense turned the tables on the Bison by keeping the ball on Bucknell’s side of the field for most of the remainder of the first half. The Mountain Hawks’ best scoring opportunity came when senior Cameron Omsberg headed a ball that was stopped by the Bucknell keeper but the rebound bounced into the middle of the box. Unfortunately, there was not a Mountain Hawk on the spot and the ball was cleared, ending Lehigh’s attack.
"Brian had a good long throw and I was able to get a touch on it because the goalie thought he could come out," said Omsberg. "Unfortunately we weren’t able to tap it in because they had a guy waiting right there to clear it."
The second half started with the Bison again pressuring the Lehigh when just 2:30 into the period, Bucknell was able to get off a header that was blocked by a Mountain Hawk and then three minutes later, Bucknell senior Josh Plump fired a shot wide of the net.
The Bison grabbed a 1-0 lead when freshman Jesse Klug scored in the 55th minute on a sliding shot though a crowd of players off a cross from senior Brendan Burgdorf from the right side of the Lehigh box. After the goal, Lehigh would turn the pressure on as the offense was able to rip 10 second-half shots, three of which were on goal, but freshman Mike Lansing was there each time to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
Throughout the final few minutes, Lehigh was able to fire a flurry of shots at the Bucknell net but to no avail. The best second half scoring opportunity came when sophomore Brian Suchoski ripped a shot from the right side but it missed wide to the left of the Bucknell net and flew harmlessly out of bounds.
"I felt like we had a lot of good throw-in, set piece and corner kick opportunities and unfortunately we would get to the first ball a lot but we just didn’t have the right people at the right spot on the second ball," said Omsberg.
Suchoski led the offense on the night, firing five shots, three of which were on-goal, while Nugent finished the game with five saves in a strong defensive effort.
"The concerns that we have, have less to do with our leaders and more to do with just trying to get guys experience," said Koski.
The game was a physical battle from beginning to end as the teams constantly pressured each other for control of the ball. Senior captain Cameron Omsberg expected the physicality coming into tonight’s match as the style of play throughout Patriot League competition.
"The knocks hurt for a second, but you walk them off," said Omsberg. "That’s how the Patriot League is. All the teams are physical and Bucknell is no exception. They’re probably one of the most physical teams in the league so we knew from the start that it would just be a battle."
Lehigh will break for one day before it takes on Penn State in a non-league match on Tuesday Sept. 25. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. at the Ulrich Sports Complex.