Men's soccer battles to 1-1 tie against UCF, return to action today at home

Junior midfielder Derek Markheim and the Patriots fought hard against the 10th-ranked UCF Knights Friday night, playing to a 1-1 tie. They return to action today at 4 p.m. at home against Cal State Fullerton. (John Powell).

Entering the game as underdog, the George Mason men’s soccer team (2-2-2) took the No. 8/10 Central Florida Knights (5-0-1) to a 1-1 tie after two overtime periods Friday night. The Patriots needed big fan support during the game and they got it with 1,933 fans packing Patriot Stadium for “Wingstock 2011.”

Mason took first blood just over 20 minutes into the matchup. After a Knight foul in UCF territory, freshman midfielder Leo Stolz took the free kick. Junior forward Taylor Morgan followed the ball as it sailed over the back line of defenders, then jumped and sent the header into the top left corner of the goal, past a diving UCF junior goalkeeper Shawn Doyle.

“I realized I was open from the corner,” Morgan said. “I just tried to get direction on it toward the corner and it just happened to go in. It was probably the best game [Stolz] has had this whole season.”

After a three-goal performance in the win over Howard, Morgan showed himself as a scoring leader for the Patriots.

“It’s been a tremendous progress to see him. In the fall, we weren’t quite sure what we had,” head coach Greg Andrulis said. “He wasn’t quite sure because it was his first year with us. And we really saw him blossom in the spring. It’s great to see that him and Verneri [Valimaa] are really developing a great partnership up top.”

The Knights’ potent offense responded quickly. Their junior midfielder Nik Robson was everywhere in Mason territory during the first half and finally made the Patriots pay. On another set piece following a Patriot foul in Mason territory, Robson took the free kick and played it to the face of the goal. From five yards out, sophomore forward McKauly Tulloch found the ball and punched it in through traffic to the right of sophomore goalkeeper Sean Cote.

“It hinges on a play here or there. We were able to take advantage of the set piece as they were,” Andrulis said. “There’s a reason they’re No. 10 and they’re a very good team and gave us all we could handle.”

For the record, Cote thinks there was a handball before the goal found the net.

Cote was in goal for his first start of the year in his third game of the 2011 campaign. The goal was his first allowed of the season, but he has gone on to accrue five saves. He displaced junior Dustin Butcher for the starting goalkeeper job, who had started all other five games in goal, saving eight and allowing one shot.

“[The battle] is a lot better than it was last year,” Cote said. “Me and Dustin are right at the same level so every day in training it’s a battle. We’ll have to see how it goes. If I keep playing my game, we’ll see what happens.”

Both teams stepped up their aggression with the tie. In a push for the ball, Mason’s junior midfielder Derek Markheim found himself on the wrong side of a 2-on-1 matchup in UCF territory. After some grabbing and pushing from both sides, a Knight went down and Markheim was shown the yellow card.

At the next stoppage of play, Markheim came out of the game for freshman midfielder Timmy Mulgrew, who was celebrating his nineteenth birthday.

“We have depth wide and Derek is one of those guys that can play anywhere on the field,” Andrulis said. “And Timmy can, too. In the spring, we played him as a left back. So those two guys are very versatile.”

Since he is still recovering from an ankle injury sustained three weeks ago, senior midfielder Ryan Gracia had to be taken out for the overtime periods. He had a good look in the second half, but played it too high to count.

“It’s rustiness. He really has gotten only 180 minutes in the last couple of weeks,” Andrulis said. “He was out for three weeks. Playing in tight spaces and executing a highly technical skill takes a little time. At the end of the game, his ankle just gave out on him unfortunately.”

With three minutes left in the first overtime period, Tulloch raced with junior defender Paul Andrews for the ball in Patriots territory. Andrews pushed the ball back to Cote but after another five steps was pushed to the ground by Tulloch. Referee Kai Goodrich brought out the red card, putting the Knights down a player.

Robson nearly found the goal three minutes into the second overtime period on a breakaway. After he found the ball, he was unable to finish, pushing the ball over the crossbar for what amounted to the last scoring chance for UCF.

It was not the Patriots’ last change though. Mulgrew stretched the defense two minutes later to end the game, but his header was called back on an offsides call.

“Timmy is a terrific player, a young guy who is learning to be a little more consistent in his play,” Andrulis said. “He gave us a chance. That shot was difficult for the goalkeeper to handle.”

Time finally ran out as the Knights stayed undefeated and the Patriots evened their record.

“I think we know we have that in us,” Morgan said. “We’ve just got to keep working hard and I think we deserved to win the game.”

The Mason men go back in action today at 4 p.m. against Cal State Fullerton in Fairfax.

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