In England, the home of Knox College men’s soccer coach Matt Edwards, soccer matches end in a draw when two teams are tied after regulation. In the United States, however, games go into overtime, and that is how the Prairie Fire lost their opening game to Spalding University on Friday, August 31.
Eight and a half minutes into the overtime period, Spalding’s Drew Kaphammer headed in Evan Childers’ free kick to provide the Golden Eagles a 2-1 victory.
“Losing the game in the way we did is cruel in many ways,” Edwards said.
The game had started with back and forth action with the teams trading opportunities until Spalding notched the game’s first goal in the 33rd minute. Kaphammer capitalized on a free kick for Julio De Leon by heading the ball into the back of the net to give Spalding a 1-0 lead.
As the second half drew to a close, Knox gained the momentum and an opportunity to tie the game.
In the 42nd minute, freshman forward Nathaniel Logie received a through ball into the box, battled Spalding defender Brent Hannah toward the line and drew a penalty shot for the Prairie Fire.
Sophomore Maxwell Gatyas, who led Knox with five goals last season, was selected to take the penalty and did not fail to capitalize. Gatyas buried the shot into the right side of the net to tie the game 1-1.
“I wanted to take it,” Gatyas said. “I go right every time, so all I had to do was stay composed.”
The goal not only evened the score, but provided a shift for the momentum of the game.
“It was massively important for the guys’ energy and enthusiasm to make sure that we got back in the game before halftime,” Edwards said. “To defend as well as we did with the energy we had, I was really pleased to get that goal.”
The energy level continued throughout the second half, as Knox used their depth to gain the better of the play. On multiple occasions the Prairie Fire mass substituted five players into the game, providing the team a new set of attacking legs.
“We had a lot of fresh subs switching in and out,” Gatyas said. “I feel like we are a pretty deep team. We have the numbers, and I think we played with a little more energy than [the other team] in the second half.”
Knox out-shot Spalding seven to three in the second half but was unable to turn the chances into goals.
Freshman Abdulsalam Oganla and sophomore Ezekiel Jere each hit the crossbar with shots for the Prairie Fire, but even with another flurry of chances (which included two corner kicks in the final two minutes), Knox was unable to break the tie in regulation.
Despite falling in the opening game, there was little doubt that the team has vastly improved from last season.
“Our team as a whole is just new,” Edwards said. “I looked at the picture from last year and we only have about five guys that returned.”
The sense of newness was reflected in the lineup, which saw five freshmen start and another three enter the game as subs.
“I think that it is important to note that our team is going to be a team, everyone is going to contribute,” Edwards said. “That is what we’ve been focusing on the whole way through preseason and since I got here back in March. Who scores is really elementary at this point. It’s about fighting for the cause.”
Gatyas believes this camaraderie is going to pay off this season.
“That was their third game — it was our first game,” Gatyas said. “I feel like we have a bunch of chances to win this year.”
Gatyas’ optimism was reflected in a massive win for the Prairie Fire just two days later. There was no lack of offense for Knox in a 9-0 bludgeoning of Robert Morris.
Knox jumped to an 2-0 halftime lead before exploding for seven goals in the second frame.
Six different Knox players notched goals in the game, with freshman Charlie Harned (two goals, one assist) and senior Donald Tchopya (two goals, two assists) delivering big games for the Prairie Fire.
Other top performers were Gatyas (one goal, one assist) as well as Logie, sophomore Jacob Polay and freshmen Charles Edemba and Will McGowan (one goal each).
“A big part of our game is going to be transitioning from the defense to the attack and we did a really nice job of making solid runs, and when we got in behind them we had control,” Edwards said. “It was great to have a variety of players involved in the scoring; it’s nice to know that the [pressure] is not all on one person’s shoulders”
The win matched the Prairie Fire’s season total from last year, but if they continue to show good fitness and mix solid defense with attacking threats, there is no reason to believe they will not finish with at least a few more this season.