The look on Kyle Zobeck’s face told the entire story for the Valparaiso men’s soccer team on Friday morning.
Cleveland State forward Admir Suljevic somehow was able to find the back of the net through a sea of players in the 34th minute of their Horizon League semifinals match in Detroit.
Zobeck wore an expression of shock and frustration as the Vikings celebrated a goal that the Crusaders were never able to recover from in a 1-0 season-ending loss.
“I think he was just surprised that it got through,” Valparaiso coach Mike Avery said. “It was a ball that maybe hit a couple of different legs. It was too bad, because it came a little bit against the run of the play, but credit to them, they had the opportunity, and they took it. We had a couple of those opportunities, but we didn’t take them.”
Valparaiso sophomore Nick Suker had the best scoring chance of the day for the Crusaders in the 30th minute when he ripped a shot that resulted in a remarkable save by Cleveland State keeper Brad Stuver.
“Kyle (Zobeck) and Brad (Stuver) are clearly the best two keepers in the league, and they showed that again today,” Avery said.
Cleveland State played passively in the second half, stacking the back side of the field in an attempt to keep the Crusaders from making a push towards the goal. The play started to get aggressive in the later minutes of the match, and Valparaiso junior Todd Vervynckt took a hard shove just inside the box with less than five minutes remaining. The officials didn’t call the foul, which would’ve led to a scoring opportunity for the Crusaders.
“They scored, and then they sat,” Avery said about Cleveland State. “The second half was pretty much us in their half, trying to get through a lot of big defenders. You hope in those moments that you get a ball that falls for you or you get a ref that makes a call that helps you out. We didn’t get either of those things today.”
The Crusaders got knocked out of the Horizon League semifinals for the second consecutive season and finished the year with a 6-9-5 record. Despite the losing record, Avery was proud of his squad for closing strong in a year when seemingly everything went wrong in the first two months of the season. Valparaiso won five of its last eight matches after picking up just one victory in its first 12 matches.
“It was a great season for us in just perseverance,” Avery said. “I was so impressed with our players and how they stuck to it. Most teams would’ve packed it in halfway through the season. This lesson will carry them for the rest of their lives.”