Down by two goals going into the second half, the Binghamton’s men’s soccer team faced a daunting deficit against the Stony Brook Seawolves in a key matchup for securing a playoff spot. After two unanswered goals by freshman defender Oliver Svalander, junior midfielder Noah Luescher approached a free kick in the 82nd minute. As he has done several times this season, Luescher launched the free kick into the back of the net and propelled Binghamton to a stunning comeback victory. The Bearcats (4-7-1, 1-3-0 America East) came away with a 3-2 victory, defeating the Seawolves (3-9-2, 0-4-0 AE) and earning their first conference win of the season.
Saturday’s match was a tale of two halves, as Stony Brook scored both of their goals in the first half, whereas the Bearcats were able to net all three of their goals in the second. With only four shots, including two on goal in the first half, the Bearcats’ offense had trouble securing ground in Stony Brook’s zone, as the Seawolves largely controlled the pace and direction of the game. In the second, Binghamton was far more aggressive on the offensive end with 10 shots and six on goal.
“I thought the game changed at halftime for us,” said Binghamton head coach Paul Marco. “We weren’t very good in the first half, not of a lot quality with the ball going forward. Guys were sitting more defensive, little more hesitation. In the second half, I thought our guys’ actions were great. We had quality action, we had great plays from our central midfield players and I thought the difference in the game was Oliver and Noah. They were combining and getting after the Stony Brook backs and terrific in front of goal.”
Svalander, who tallied a pair of goals for the Bearcats, was able to join Luescher on the attack following a formation adjustment by Marco in the second half. The freshman defender was highly efficient for his team, as he fired six shots on goal and became the third player to score two goals in one game this season for Binghamton. The goals marked Svalander’s first of his career.
“Noah and Oliver were both the MVPs of the game,” Marco said. “Oliver was terrific, he was hungry to get his first goal. Really proud. The first goal he scores is terrific, and then he’s flying high with confidence with another one.”
Not only were the strategic adjustments by Binghamton critical to their second-half success, but also a shift in players’ mindsets.
“In the first half, we initiated and played with three center backs, and then in the second half we moved to playing in the second half in the back four,” Marco said. “We moved a striker up front to play against their center back — those two changes probably helped the most, and even bigger than the shape of team was the frame of mind of the guys. They were coming out with a little more confidence and demonstrated what we see every day in training. We haven’t seen this in a while during games. For some reason, our guys are performing better in training than in games, and that was like in the first half. In the second half, we saw what we see in training every day.”
Luescher’s proficiency shined through in crunch time, as he scored the game winner for Binghamton in the 82nd minute. Once Binghamton secured the lead, the team was able to deny any offensive pushes by Stony Brook that may have jeopardized the match for Binghamton.
“I thought late in the game, once we got the lead, I thought [graduate student defender Stephen] McKenna did a great job of keeping the guys compact and still getting us to keep going forward, and I thought the guys did a really good job of killing the game off,” Marco said. “The guys saw the game out to the final whistle.”
The last time Binghamton was able to rally from a two-goal deficit was the 2015 AE Quarterfinals, again against Stony Brook with a 3-2 victory.
Before taking on UMBC next weekend in their next AE matchup, the Bearcats will play a nonconference game on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at Bucknell. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at the Kenneth Langone Athletics & Recreation Center in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.