One corner kick. One header. One explosion.
In the twelfth minute of this past Saturday’s Atlantic 10 men’s soccer quarterfinals matchup against George Washington, a corner kick by sophomore Stavros Zarakostas was headed in by senior defensemen Tyler Dickson, propelling the Rams forward in the A-10 post-season tournament.
The Rams would hold their one goal lead throughout the end of the first half, and the full 45 minutes of the second half, securing victory and a spot in the semifinals.
Advancing to the semifinals for the fourth year in a row, this upcoming Saturday the Rhody men’s soccer team will be taking on Virginia Commonwealth University in Dayton, Ohio.
In this past weekend’s 1-0 triumph, senior goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm finished the day with six saves, completing his eighth shutout of the year. Dickson’s goal was his second of the year, and fifth of his Rhode Island soccer career.
The Rams suffered a 2 -1 defeat in their previous encounter with VCU on Oct. 28. Dickson scored the team’s lone goal in this game as well, but a faulty second half caused the end result to be a loss.
“The second half we started to absorb a little too much pressure,” Rams head coach Gareth Elliott said. “We now know VCU a little better and we can adapt our game to play accordingly.”
There is no doubt the Rams are well-equipped to achieve victory this upcoming Saturday, however, with a multitude of players boasting extraordinary talent.
Leifhelm has been awarded Atlantic 10 defensive player of the week four times this season and has played the full 90 minutes of every game, boasting an 82 percent save percentage. On average, the Leifhelm only allows one goal per game.
On the offensive side, a triple threat of Zarakostas, junior Dominik Richter and junior Chae Brangman can be considered a force to be reckoned with. The three players can account for 17 out of the 28 goals scored by the team this season, and also have a combined 123 attempted shots on goal. The three also have a combined shot on goal average of 43.6 percent, meaning out of all the shots they take, 43.6 percent are on target, or at the goal. Zarakostas and Richter have also each been awarded Atlantic 10 offensive player of the week this year.
At the opposite end, a strong defensive line has proved its skill time and time again, boasting six shut-outs. Dickson has played 15 out of the 18 games, senior Joey Cain has played in all 18 games, and sophomore Niklas Middrup returned to the field this past weekend. Middrup has played 13 out of the 18 games this season.
“We’ve been very solid defensively this year,” Dickson said. “We’ve put up a decent number of shutouts against good teams, ranked teams as well on the road. Defense wins championships, and I think that’s going to help us through the tournament.”
In addition to their skill, the Rams will need to stay motivated, as they will be traveling 772 miles from Kingston to Dayton.
“Before every half we get into a huddle and try to motivate each other and remind everyone what’s on the line for the team,” Leifhelm said. “We need to get fired up for the next 45 minutes.”