Diverse Attack Sees West Virginia Pass Stern Iona Test

Written by Ian Thomson

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s 3-1 win over a tricky Iona side Wednesday lifted the Mountaineers to a 6-2-1 record for the year having scored 16 goals in the process.

It’s a mark of WVU’s offensive depth that captain and center-back Eric Schoenle leads his team with just three goals. Twelve different players have found the net for West Virginia after freshmen Majed Osman and Zak Leedom notched their first collegiate level strikes against the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference side from the northern periphery of New York City.

“I could care less who scores,” said WVU Head Coach Marlon LeBlanc after Wednesday’s game. “You’ll have a pretty hard time homing in on any one player on our team.”

Iona’s Ansger Otto troubled the No. 17 ranked Mountaineers throughout the opening half-hour with his searing pace. The explosive forward gave the visitors an early lead following a move down the right wing. Schoenle equalized from Travis Pittman’s free kick shortly before the interval before Osman and Leedom eased the hosts to victory in the second half.

Western Michigan will be next to try slowing LeBlanc’s sterling offensive that has scored 13 goals from 75 shots in the past four games. The teams meet in Mid-American Conference action Saturday at noon in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Line-Ups

WVU’s starting 11 against Iona

LeBlanc tinkered with his starting 11 following West Virginia’s 4-0 win over Florida Atlantic last Sunday in the Mountaineers’ MAC debut. Londoner Osman led the attack with Uwem Etuk operating in a free role behind the main striker.

An attacking 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation characterized by its fluidity rather than an adherence to numbers is usually adopted by LeBlanc. This selection tended closer to 4-4-1-1 with Leedom and junior Allan Flott joining Pittman and Craig Stephens in a narrow, flexible midfield quartet.

Iona Head Coach Fernando Barboto sent his cosmopolitan team out in a similar shape with Spaniard Alvaro Torrecilla in the supporting role behind Otto. Torrecilla is one of four Madrid natives on Iona’s roster, and starting goalkeeper Borja Barbero hails from Valladolid.

Iona lined up in a similar starting formation to WVU

Otto and Barbero are among four Iona players named to this year’s Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy Watch List along with Sammy Adjei and Franklin Castellanos.

Otto’s Immense Speed Upsets West Virginia’s Back Line

There aren’t many forwards in college soccer with the acceleration to leave Schoenle in their wake. Otto proved to be an exception on 11 minutes when he gave the visitors a surprise lead.

West Virginia excels at hemming their opponents into non-threatening areas with their high-energy pressing, and there seemed little danger as Iona struggled to move out of their own half down the left side. The Gaels switched the point of attack to the right and took advantage of WVU’s rare slowness to shuttle across. Otto worked a one-two with right-midfielder Ignacio Maganto before bursting into the penalty area past Schoenle to slot a low finish under goalkeeper Yale Tiley.

It’s also unusual for the athletic 6-foot-2-inch Schoenle to lose an aerial duel. Iona defender Michael Hodgen soared highest in WVU’s penalty area two minutes later to reach Otto’s long throw, but his header sailed harmlessly over Tiley’s crossbar as the Gaels continued to unsettle the hosts.

Etuk inspired the Mountaineers’ first threat of the game on 18 minutes, picking up the ball in the final third and drifting right to swap passes with Leedom. The return ball released Etuk into space behind Iona’s defense. His cutback eventually saw Leedom fire in a shot that defender Robbie Krohmer charged down.

LeBlanc demands a lot of effort from his full-backs to provide attacking width when his forward players cut inside. Right-back Nick Raskasky’s failure to advance brought the seventh-year head coach to his feet moments later. His bellowing provoked an immediate response as Raskasky’s support allowed WVU to work the ball to Osman on 20 minutes. The striker’s swerving 20-yard shot just faded away into Barbero’s side netting.

Otto’s speed continued to unsettle the hosts’ rhythm. The Willingsboro, N.J. native almost created a counter-attack opportunity when he sprinted to block Pittman’s attempted pass in midfield, and he attacked Schoenle again in a 1-vs-1 situation on 27 minutes. Otto blitzed past his man on the left wing, shimmied around Pittman to the end line and pulled the ball across the face of goal. None of his teammates could supply a finishing touch.

WVU Takes Control Of Possession In Iona’s Half

WVU’s defense were given a reprieve on the half-hour when Otto made way for Castellanos, and their resilience surfaced when regular starters Andy Bevin and Shadow Sebele arrived to pep up the attack.

Osman’s quick feet allowed him to keep possession inside Iona’s penalty box on 32 minutes until Sebele arrived on his outside. The Zimbabwean’s deep cross found Bevin arriving at the back post with a tight angle to aim for. Barbero shifted across his line to blocked the Kiwi’s downward header.

Raskasky had worked the initial lethargy from his legs by now, and his support opened up space for Pittman to have a dig from 25 yards one minute later. Barbero pushed the ball around his near post at full stretch.

The Mountaineers were beginning to dominate possession in Iona’s half, and the equalizer came on 38 minutes from Pittman’s inswinging free kick from deep on the left side. Raskasky peeled around the back to hurl himself into a brave challenge with the imposing Barbero, causing the ball to break loose to where Schoenle had made his run. The defender volleyed into the empty net for his third goal in four games.

Schoenle wasn’t done there. Sebele produced a mirror image of Pittman’s pinpoint delivery from the right side on 43 minutes to find his captain surging toward the six-yard line. Schoenle beat Barbero to the ball and was unfortunate to see his flicked header connect with the top of the crossbar rather than the net.

Bevin came similarly close to edging the Mountaineers ahead in the final seconds of the first half. The New Zealand U-20 international allowed Sebele’s pass to drift across his body before turning to fire a left-foot shot off the outside of Barbero’s near post from 25 yards.

Improved Possession Puts Mountaineers On Top

Otto’s liveliness caused problems for West Virginia’s defense (Photo: Ian Thomson)

Otto returned at the start of the second half to resume his threat to WVU’s defense. The dreadlocked forward stepped inside Schoenle at the halfway line before using his speed and a fortuitous bounce to zip past Raskasky. Haydon Bennett covered well at the near post to clear Otto’s cutback as Maganto lurked near the penalty spot.

West Virginia’s neat interplay around the top of the box surfaced on 59 minutes when they finally took the lead. Left-back Peabo Doue and Sebele linked up before Osman gathered the ball on the 18-yard line. The freshman side-stepped his marker to open a yard of space before tucking a neat finish low into Barbero’s right corner.

Iona’s fire was beginning to burn out. They had managed just two shots to West Virginia’s 12 in the first half despite Otto’s verve, and the danger man was becoming increasingly isolated as LeBlanc’s side cut out their earlier turnovers.

Schoenle demonstrated his renewed authority with a crunching tackle on Maganto in midfield, and the skipper began peppering 50-yard balls in search of Doue and Raskasky’s lung-bursting runs. Raskasky almost got his name on the score sheet for the second consecutive game on 63 minutes, but he couldn’t generate enough power on his header to nod Sebele’s inswinging corner past Barbero at the back post.

Second-half arrival Jamie Merriam forced the overworked Spanish goalkeeper into a smart save on 69 minutes after chesting the ball down for a 20-yard volley that seemed destined for the top corner. Schoenle displayed excellent awareness from the resulting corner to head the ball back into Sebele’s path, but his shot was blocked at close range.

Barbero kept his team hanging around when he blocked Bevin’s shot on a 1-vs-1 breakaway on 74 minutes, but he was finally beaten when Leedom sealed the game six minutes later.

Sebele cut inside off the right wing to start a chain of passes along the 18-yard box involving Etuk, substitute Kyle Underwood, and finally Leedom. The Dublin, Ohio native had both space and time to plant his shot low into the far corner.

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