MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia got its season off to a winning start Sunday with a single-goal victory over a stubborn Ohio State side at Dick Dlesk Stadium.
Captain Andy Bevin netted the late game-winner from a deflected free-kick after the Mountaineers had struggled to turn superior possession into goal-scoring opportunities.
Bevin returned to the forward line in head coach Marlon LeBlanc’s line-up after playing a deeper role for most of last season that yielded only two goals. The junior from New Zealand produced an excellent display of shielding the ball and bringing his midfielders into the attack.
It was Bevin’s nifty footwork and wriggling at the edge of the visitors’ penalty area that drew the game’s decisive foul on 76 minutes. Bevin’s right-foot curler clipped the outside of the Buckeyes’ defensive wall and spun into goalkeeper Alex Ivanov’s bottom-left corner.
“I’m definitely more comfortable there,” Bevin told The Soccer Observer after the game. “Hopefully I can bring the goals back again this season.”
WVU adopted a 4-4-2 formation with freshman midfielder Christian Diaz anchoring the midfield while Zak Leedom, Jamie Merriam and Craig Stephens supported the attack. Senior Jay Williams partnered Bevin up front, and Lee Johnston was given the nod in goals.
Stephens created the game’s first chance on 12 minutes after his hustling and energy to back up Williams forced a corner on the left side. The Kiwi nodded countryman Bevin’s inswinging delivery over the crossbar.
Haydon Bennett had a clearer sight of goal three minutes later after a crisp passing move involving Bevin, Leedom, Stephens and full-backs Alex Ochoa and Nick Raskasky earned a second corner kick. The defender was left unmarked and given time to place his 15-yard header. Bennett too sent his effort over the bar.
Bevin’s advancement dropped Merriam into a central attacking-midfield role where the 6-foot sophomore offered an alternative, aerial route to WVU’s forward pair via his flick-ons. The hosts’ intricate link-up play was admirable, but an inability to change the speed of attack allowed Ohio State to defend their penalty area comfortably. Ivanov did not make a single save during the first half.
The Buckeyes fared little better in the final third. The Big Ten conference side were almost gifted an opening when Danny Jensen caught Diaz dwelling on the halfway line. Center-forward Kenny Cunningham could not control his teammate’s quick through ball. Alec Lowell’s tame overhead kick on the stroke of half-time registered as the only shot on target for either side during the first 45 minutes.
West Virginia began the second half with a flurry of attacks as full-backs Ochoa and Raskasky pressed higher up the flanks. Diaz stepped forward to fizz a 30-yard drive wide of target, and Williams failed to direct Bevin’s cross on goal.
The visitors came within an inch of opening the scoring on 54 minutes when Cunningham raced clear after a quick turnover. The Brecksville, Ohio native dinked a composed chip over the onrushing Johnston from the edge of the goalkeeper’s penalty area only to see the ball rebound onto the goal line after striking the underside of the crossbar. Johnston recovered to swat the loose ball away from Christian Soldat.
WVU responded by forcing Ivanov into his first save to thwart Williams’ blast from the right side of the box. Merriam slid an enticing ball across the face of goal minutes later that narrowly eluded Stephens.
Houston Dynamo Academy product Ochoa orchestrated the game’s best move on 70 minutes as the hosts increased their threat in the final third. The freshman patiently exchanged passes with Bennett until Bevin dropped short to offer a forward option. Bevin’s exchange with substitute Kyle Underwood created the space and time for Ochoa to gallop forward. His eventual left-wing cross found opposite full-back Raskasky charging in at the back post. Raskasky’s volley whizzed high and wide of Ivanov’s goal, but the move stood out in head coach LeBlanc’s post-game summary.
“When you get your full-backs going forward like that and you have a midfielder like Christian Diaz that allows them to do that with great regularity and great freedom, that plays into the system we’re trying to instill,” LeBlanc told The Soccer Observer.
LeBlanc’s plans suffered a setback with nine minutes remaining when Raskasky was carried off after an innocuous tumble. The Seattle Sounders U-23 player crumpled to the field after trying to recover from a heavy touch. He looks set to miss a significant chunk of the season.
“It’s not good,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve got a number of options and we’ll spend the next few days trying to figure it out.”
WVU travels to Villanova Friday for its second and final exhibition game before welcoming Central Connecticut State to Morgantown on Aug. 30.
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