One of the greatest pity lines in all of sport is, “We really deserved to win.”
But 99.99 percent of the time, if a team does not win, it simply did not do enough. Sure, one call could have gone another way, but coaches and players often forget about or try not to talk about the opportunities they squandered or changes they failed to make.
So when Phil Sandgren said, “We deserve more than this, we could have won last week, we could have won against Harvard, then we could have won today,” he was wrong.
The Boston College men’s soccer team could have a pair of ACC victories in the bag, be without a loss, and be in the top 25. Even though the Swedish striker scored two stunning goals against No. 9 Louisville, poor marking on an overtime set piece subdued the Eagles to a 3-2 defeat on Friday night on Newton.
Against the Cardinals, head coach Ed Kelly changed his team’s system from a diamond midfield to a 4-4-1-1, which looks likes 4-2-3-1, because the outside midfielders push high up the pitch and pinch inside. The team’s shape was similar to the system it played last season, and it matched up well with the visitors.
“We’re playing like 4-4-1-1, but we just kept tucking in to take care of their midfielders,” Kelly said. “I thought we stole the ball. I thought we had chances.”
Ken Lolla’s team plays a 4-2-3-1 with very fluid attackers. Last week at Duke, the Cards shredded the Blue Devils, who use a diamond midfield. Thanks to an attacking full back pair of Tim Kubel on the right and Shane Campbell on the left, the Cards decimated the visitors. Ben Strong and Andrew Brody served as a lethal pairing on the wings that took advantage of the lack of natural width John Kerr’s diamond concedes. The two attackers are versatile and skilled, while the attacking midfielder and striker change places often to confuse the opposing back four.
To account for the opposition, Kelly diverted from his system and put Sandgren up top by himself, dropped Zeiko Lewis behind, and played Diego Medina-Mendez and Isaac Normesinu out wide.
For Sandgren, getting back into goal-scoring form was no easy task, as he struggled with his fitness. He couldn’t get a game in Sweden, after sitting last season out due to transfer rules.
“We’re seeing that Phil can do it and then we can make variations of it,” Kelly said.
Sandgren has a lot of confidence in his abilities, which is extremely important for a striker, especially one who decides to hit a half-volley from the right flank about 25 yards from goal. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound forward did that on Friday night, and somehow the ball found its way over Louisville keeper Joachim Ball and in the top corner on six minutes.
Even though the Swede will tell you he’s scored plenty of gorgeous goals in his career, against one of the nation’s best teams, you won’t see many better than his first against the Cards.
The system helped sustain the Eagles’ place in the game throughout the first half, though a corner was whipped in during the 22nd minute. Alex Kapp, who has stood out for the Eagles all season, made three consecutive saves, before Ricardo Velazco headed the ball in from point-blank range at the far post to level the match.
But BC would keep pressing. Sandgren worked extremely hard to frustrate the Cards’ back four by closing them down, along with Normesinu, Lewis, and Medina-Mendez. Four minutes after the Cards leveled, Sandgren pressed one of the Louisville center backs on the left side, won the ball, and unleashed a laser strike that cannoned off the near post and into the opposite side-netting.
“I’m happy to be scoring again,” Sandgren said. “I’m happy with my own performance. I’m happy with the team’s performance.”
Kelly’s team carried through the rest of the first half by limiting wing play from the full backs.
“We did a great job of sliding in and picking up people and making the right full back make the game,” said Kelly, whose change in shape put pressure on Louisville’s midfield pivot, giving the pair few chances to find Kubel.
BC failed to hold onto its halftime lead, though, as Will Vitalis unzipped the BC back line and midfield with a simple ball to Ben Strong. The transfer from Virginia Tech made no mistake inside the area, slotting the ball by Kapp to level the match at two goals apiece.
The Eagles were able to put the No. 9 team in the land on the back foot. With a flurry of chances in the last 10 minutes, which was highlighted by a Sandgren shot that Ball tipped over the bar, BC went into extra time with momentum in its favor.
Atobra Ampadu drove from center back into the 18-yard box only to be stuffed by Ball, and Lewis failed to put away the rebound. Lewis did well to make a run behind the visitors’ back four, but his cross could not find a body.
Two minutes after Lewis’ attack proved fruitless, the Eagles gave up a free kick deep on the right flank. Campbell whipped the ball in and BC did not pick up the tall guy with the strange hairdo at the back post. That man was substitute Nolan Moore, whose outstretched foot made contact with the ball to send it into the net. Moore’s goal provided the touch of death from the Cards, who walked away with the overtime victory.
Had that foul not been made, or had Moore been marked a bit better, then the Eagles might have had another opportunity to upset the Cardinals. If they were able to finish off the No. 9 team in the country in extra time, then they would have deserved to win the match.