BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU junior winger Matt Hawkins rushes down the field with the ball against Frostburg State. Sept. 29. Brendan Link photo
Fresh off a 3-1 victory at Catholic last Wednesday, the Salisbury University men’s soccer team (8-1-1, 1-0 CAC) entered their first match of conference play on a hot stride, going unbeaten in their previous eight matches.
The streak is the program’s most successful one since 2015, when the team went 10 matches unbeaten on their way to their most recent CAC title and NCAA tournament appearance. On Saturday, the team hoped that their current streak would mirror that same 2015 success as SU opened up CAC play against the Frostburg State Bobcats (3-7-1, 0-1 CAC).
The Sea Gulls came out aggressively on the offensive side of the ball, getting three shots and two corner kicks off in the first 13 minutes of the game. The opportunities gave way to the first score of the match.
“We have such a deep bench,” SU junior winger Matt Hawkins said. “The quicker we can get guys in and out, I think the more dangerous we can be. I think that everyone that played today was dangerous.”
Driving down the left side of the field, Hawkins battled for room against a Bobcat on the edge of the box. With an extra cut inside, Hawkins found the angle that he needed to sweep the ball to the top of the box.
SU junior midfielder Ryan Spadin was there waiting for the pass, slotting the ball with power into the right side of the goal to put Salisbury up 1-0 in 16th minute. It was Spadin’s eighth career goal and second of the season.
“I got lucky a little bit,” Hawkins said. “I think I beat him for pace and then I cut back and it kind of just bounced up. It ended up going my way. I just saw [Spadin] making a good run into the box. I figured I’d put it in a good place for him. He did the rest.”
After that early score, chances and play slowed down as the first half went on. The SU senior goalkeeper only had to make one save in the first half as the Bobcats only registered three shots.
The same theme continued throughout the match as Frostburg State could not find consistent opportunities offensively. Their arguably two best chances came in the final five minutes of the match.
FSU freshman midfielder Trevor Namie first found good contact from the top of the box, driving the ball straight at Brookhart. It was an easy save for the Sea Gull, hopping straight up to grab the high-rising ball.
With three and a half minutes remaining, FSU freshman defender Cameron Coates ran onto a through ball down the right flank of the field. Cutting to avoid an initial challenge from SU defender Alton Walker, the Howard County, Md., native cut into the Salisbury box.
Brookhart came forward, making himself big for a potential save. Coates moved the ball onto his right foot and drove into it. Running in from the top of the box, SU junior center back Trent Hofmeister slid in at the last second to parry the ball out of play, forcing a corner kick.
The play was a key late stop to preserve a tight 1-0 win for the Sea Gulls in their conference-opener.
“If we’re able to jump out to an early lead, we have to keep that momentum going and use that as a platform to find a second and a third goal,” SU head coach Alex Hargrove said. “Or to at least keep enough pressure on the goalkeeper and the back line throughout. I think it’s a positive first result. It’s another shutout.”
For a full photo gallery from the match from staff photographer Brendan Link, click here.
While SU did struggle to find their own chances with a season-low 11 shots in the match, the Sea Gulls’ defense stood tall once again to clinch their sixth clean sheet of the season. That number tops their amount from last season of five.
“I think we did really well as a whole,” SU junior center back Alex Eiben said. “[Frostburg] pretty much just had a long ball over the top, so we just were looking for that. They didn’t really play much through the middle.”
SU now has the third-lowest GAA among CAC teams at 0.49. Overall, they limited the Bobcats to nine shots and two corner kicks.
With the victory, the Sea Gulls increased their unbeaten streak to nine matches, sporting an 8-0-1 record over that stretch. Before the team tries to tie their unbeaten streak from 2015, Salisbury has a one-week break until their next match.
The next contest will be a road one at Penn State Harrisburg (11-1, 0-1 CAC), which comes off a conference-opening loss at Christopher Newport University. Salisbury, CNU and St. Mary’s (Md.) are the three teams currently at the top of the conference after the first match day.
“It was a good result,” Eiben said. “We could have done better, but we were passing around them. We maintained possession for a good part of the game.”