Men's Soccer: No Reason For Concern On Offense

Sept. 15, 2010

By Dave Malaska

Last year, an offensive explosion of 15 goals through the season's first few weeks powered the Cincinnati men's soccer team to a 4-0 start. This year, though the Bearcats remain unbeaten at 2-0-2, goals have been harder to come by. In fact, junior forward Matt Bahner has UC's only three goals to date.

Nobody -- especially the UC coaching staff -- is hitting the panic button just yet, however.

"We're creating a lot of opportunities, getting a lot of shots and, eventually, those shots are going to start going in," says UC head coach Hylton Dayes.

For the record, the Bearcats have had 63 shot attempts through their first four matches, with 22 shots on goal. That would put them on pace to register 270 shots on the season, despite a season-low five attempts in Sunday's 1-0 win over Fordham.

A reason for optimism, Dayes points out, is that UC is just a fickle few inches from being 4-0. In both their ties, the Bearcats came within a hairsbreadth of winning tallies.

Against Detroit over the Labor Day weekend, Bahner's left-footed shot in the 88th minute skimmed the top of the crossbar and his header a minute later was thwarted by a brilliant save by Titan keeper Martin Robertson in UC's 1-1 tie with Detroit. After the whistle blew on regulation, Branden Stelmak's header in extra time hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced straight down and was cleared by the defense to preserve the tie.

Later in the week, another Stelmak header clanged off the crossbar early in UC's scoreless lock with Appalachian State.

An inch's difference and UC would be unbeaten and untied, and concerns about the Bearcats' low goal total would be on the back shelf. As it is, it's hard to ignore Cincinnati is on pace to match its 2008 goal total of 13, which was the lowest output in recent memory.



Still, Dayes is positive UC's scoring will pick up.

"Our movement is good. Our passing has been good. Last year, we were more of a 'run team.' We played a lot of balls forward and were hopeful we could convert them into goals," he explains. "This year, we've shown a little more ability to play the midfield, and have gotten great play from the flanks."

Bahner, playing on the outside, has been a constant scoring threat, while the other starter on the outside, senior Mark Konitsch, has contributed a pair of assists on Bahner's goals.

Another positive to take away from the undisturbed goals in Gettler Stadium has been opponents' lack of scoring, as well. Only Detroit's goal has moved the visitor's scoreboard tally from zero and Cincinnati's defense has also kept foes to a very low total of 42 shot attempts.

"Our defense has been solid," acknowledges Dayes. "Keep in mind, we've got three new guys in the back. The only returning starter that has played back there is Sam Klosterman."

With conference play, not to mention this weekend's tilt with No. 1-ranked Akron on the slate, the coach says the defense needs to improve, though.

"We can always be better. We're still learning that at critical points in the game, you can't have breakdowns. Even though we only scored one goal against Detroit, if we didn't have a defensive breakdown, we would have won, 1-0," he says.

The Bearcats head away from Gettler Stadium's friendly confines for the first time this season for this weekend's Akron Tournament. UC plays winless Illinois-Chicago on Friday to open the tournament, then will face the host Zips on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Akron (3-0) was a NCAA College Cup finalist last season, and opened the season ranked No. 1 -- a ranking they haven't relinquished yet. Coming off a 2-0 win over Bowling Green last weekend, the Zips haven't allowed a goal this season. Though a decidedly big test for the Bearcats, Akron isn't invincible.

Last year, the Zips came to Gettler Stadium for the adidas Bearcat Classic. Though they left with a 3-0 win, Cincinnati kept within striking distance for most of the match, letting up two late goals in the last 10 minutes. And UC has experience in taking down top-ranked teams. Before last season's visit from Akron, the last time UC played a No. 1-ranked team, they upset Connecticut, 2-0, in 2005.

There will be one particularly familiar face in Sunday's match against Akron. Zips' junior defender Kofi Sarkodie is the younger brother of former Bearcat midfielder Kwame Sarkodie, who played in Cincinnati from 2003-06. A four-year letterwinner and two-year starter, Kwame finished his college career with three goals and six assists in 69 matches for UC.

Kofi has earned two letters at Akron, was named to College Soccer News' preseason All-American list this season and is on the watch list for the Hermann Trophy, the top individual honor for college Division I soccer players.

Soccer runs in the Sarkodie family. Another brother, Ofori, starred as a defender at Indiana until graduating last year.