ONEONTA, NY - The Buffalo men's soccer team continues to find its pace at the perfect time of the year, racking up another shutout win Wednesday night with a 1-0 decision over Hartwick (4-10-1, 1-5 MAC). The Bulls (5-10-1, 3-3 MAC) used a first-half goal from senior Joey Merlo to earn the win. The game, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was the team's third straight win and kept its hopes for a berth in the Mid-American Conference tournament alive.
"It was a total team effort tonight, we had to play every available player because the storm pushed us back a day and gave us only one day of rest before Northern Illinois on Friday," head coach David Hesch said. "We had to be mindful of our legs. We stuck to the game plan, defended well and possessed the ball. Defensively we limited their shots on goals, Jon Viscosi was great again in goal and Matthew Chereson and Jesse Andoh were solid at the center of our defense."
Despite the Hawks dictating the run of play early on, the Bulls leaned once again on its senior class to respond. Merlo took the ball down the right side and was able to rack his second goal of the season in the 27th minute to put the Bulls up early and deflate the opposition. Patrick Ryan and Maksym Kowal were awarded assists for setting up their classmate's goal.
"It was a great goal at a great time," Hesch said. "Joey possessed the ball from about 30 yards out, beat one guy and went far post. He recognized the goalie was out of position and just blasted it past him near post. You can just see after that goal that our team was fired up."
That would wind up being the lone goal of the game thanks to a UB defense that went all out to limit any quality chances on frame for Hartwick. Despite being outshot 17-7 and out-cornered 12-4, the Buffalo defense allowed only three shots to be put on goal. All three would be punched clear by senior keeper Jonathan Viscosi. While the back line continued its recent stretch of standout play, Hesch credited the entire starting 11 with making a difference on defense.
"We're defending well all over the field right now, our forwards are putting better pressure on the ball and our midfielders are marking up well and playing tighter," Hesch said. "Having such a young team and playing guys in key spots, we had to try some different things through the year so far and we've lived and learned from our mistakes."
Many different outcomes lay before the team heading into the season finale Friday night at home against Northern Illinois. There is currently a four-way tie for second place in the conference, with Western Michigan, West Virginia, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois all with three wins and a tie in conference play. The Mountaineers go to Bowling Green on Saturday while the Broncos will face a stiff challenge as it heads to Akron on Saturday as well.
With only three wins for the Bulls, there is no other option but win, and with a win the team could potentially put themselves anywhere from the second seed to a third or fourth seed. As the lone MAC game of Friday, the team will be forced to watch its destiny unfold with the two critical Saturday matches to follow.
"The guys are ready. Even with the storm coming through, the guys said 'hey, we'll play Wednesday, we'll play Thursday, we'll play Friday morning' we want to get this game and then get to Northern," Hesch said. "This team has bought into the system - they trust me, they trust each other and you can see that it has gone a long way."
First kick against the Huskies at UB Stadium will be at 7pm.