Wheeling, W. Va. – The annual “Battle for Wheeling” between Wheeling University and West Liberty University begins this Sunday as Wheeling Men’s and Women’s Soccer take the trip to the hilltop. The Wheeling University Men’s Soccer team (0-5-1, 0-3-1) plays in the second half of that doubleheader as they battle West Liberty University with kick-off scheduled for 3 PM. After splitting the season series a year ago, the Cardinals are looking to get the upper hand early on the 2023 series as the race to the Mountain East Conference (MEC) tournament heats up.
Last time out, the Cardinals hit the road for on of their toughest tests of the season as they took on #12 Notre Dame College. After a hot start for the Falcons that saw them score three goals in the first nine minutes of the game, the Cardinals defense did a nice job of slowing them down for the rest of the half. By the time the teams broke for the locker room, the score stuck at that 3-0 Notre Dame College lead, with Wheeling nearly equalling the Falcons offensive effort, being outshot 9-7. It was the first time all season that the Cardinals allowed more than two goals in the first half of a game. However, in the second half, the Falcons came out shooting, putting up five more goals before bringing the game to its eventual final score of 8-0. Wheeling got off two shots in the half, putting both on net as they fell to 0-3-1 in MEC play.
Through the first six games of the season, the story for the Men’s Soccer team has been their defense and their ability to keep the team in games. Of their five losses so far this season, three have come by two goals or less and the team has allowed two goals or fewer in the first half of five of their six games this season. Leading the way has been goalkeeper Carlos Molina, who has started five of the six games in net and holds a .583 save percentage on the season. He faced 14 total shots on net during Wednesday’s game and made six saves, with five of those coming during the second half. Molina has been a steady presence in net for the Cardinals this season and has kept things from getting too far out of hand to help his offense.
While the Cardinals are working to find their offensive identity, it has been one of their defensive captains leading the way. Junior TJ Cherry has led the team so far this season with two goals and four points to pace the effort. He is already passed his career-high for goals in a season, and he scored the game-tying goal in the team’s tie against Concord. The Cardinals also got a boost from the return of Harry Martin, who led the team with three shots and putting two on goal. Martin was the Cardinal’s fourth leading scorer with three goals a season ago, and looks to get back to that form in 2023. With Martin, Christian Ruud, Richard Afolayanka, and Jon-Michael Gordon up top, the Cardinals are looking to create more scoring opportunities as the season moves on.
In the early going, the Cardinals sit seventh in the conference at 0-3-1, earning one point in the team’s tie with Concord. They sit a half game ahead of Frostburg State and two games behind their Sunday opponent West Liberty. With the top six teams making the tournament, the Cardinals are trying to get back to the top four and host a first round playoff game. Last season, they were the conference’s #4 seed in the tournament and hosted their first home playoff game since the 2018 season. With over a month of games remaining on the schedule, the Cardinals have plenty of time to battle back in the standings, and will get several chances on their home field, with six of their final 11 regular season games coming on their home turf.
The Cardinals and Hilltoppers are meeting for the 10th time in program history in what has been a tightly contested series, with Wheeling leading the all-time matchup at 5-4. The teams have split the season series in each of the last two seasons, with the home team being the victor in each of the previous four meetings. When the series is played on the Hilltop, the Hilltoppers have had the better showing, with Wheeling going 1-4 in five previous meetings at West Liberty.
In their most recent meeting, the two teams played on the hilltop, with West Liberty walking away with a 2-1 victory to wrap up the regular season. Former Cardinal Armando Loynaz scored the lone Cardinal’s goal in that game in the 66th minute, but two late Hilltopper goals led them to victory. Carlos Molina would get the start in net in that game, making five saves on seven shots faced on the afternoon.
Kick-off for Sunday’s game is scheduled for 3 PM at the West Family Athletic Complex on the campus of West Liberty University. You can watch the game live by clicking HERE or follow along with Live Stats by clicking HERE.
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