By Ben Hercik
The Cleveland State University men’s soccer team was sitting in third place in the Horizon League standings after a 2-0 win against Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. All seemed to be going well for the Vikings. With four games left in the season, they had a favorable shot to get to the conference tournament, as well as still having a chance to be one of the top seeds. All they had to do was win two of their final three conference games.
That’s when things fell apart for the team. They lost their last three conference games and went from third place in the conference, to seventh place and missing the conference tournament as the top six teams in the Horizon League get into the tournament. The fall in the conference standings began against Wright State University. The team allowed two goals early in the game and couldn’t recover. Senior Vlad Jandric did get the Vikings on the board with a goal in the 61st minute. The team had three more shots on goal, and even though Wright State was down to 10 players due to one player getting a red card, they couldn’t find the equalizer or winning goal to finish a comeback attempt.
With two conference games left, a trip to the conference tournament began to be more and more in question. The Vikings went into the game with the University of Illinois-Chicago looking to turn things around. After a scoreless first half, Chicago was able to get on the board first with a goal in the 61st minute. This didn’t deter Cleveland State, as they were able to tie up the game at one a piece with a score from sophomore Jannis Schmidt in the 80th minute. This took the game to overtime, and the Vikings had the momentum on their side. Freshman goalie Omeed Naeemy had his best game of the season, with 16 saves — the second most in a Division I game. But he needed 17, as one slipped past Naeemy in the 96th minute to end the game in another 2-1 Cleveland State loss.
With the season on the line, the Vikings were unable to beat the University of Detroit Mercy in the regular season finale as they fell 1-0. This left Cleveland State at nine conference points, when they needed 11 points to get into the Horizon League Championship tournament. At 11, they would have been tied with the University of Milwaukee – Wisconsin, who the Vikings beat earlier in the season and had the tiebreaker over.
The tail end of the season wasn’t all bad for the Vikings, as they were able to pull out a win against the University of Akron, who were the national runners-up from last season. After letting up a goal in the 24th minute, Naeemy didn’t allow another goal in the game, and Jandric was able to tie the game up at one just before the half with a goal in the 43rd minute. Senior Gabriel Pewu added two goals that were just two minutes apart to seal the deal as Cleveland State would win 3-1.
Despite going 1-3 down the stretch, the season as a whole was a step in the right direction for the program, as they improved from last years’ 4-8-3 record and posted a 7-7-1 record.
The Vikings did this by defending their home turf better than they did last season. During the 2018 campaign, Cleveland State was 2-3-1 at Krenzler Field, while this season they were 5-2 at home. This improvement can be seen through the striking and goal keeping, as they scored four more goals from last year and allowed 0.75 less goals over the season.
These improvements garnered the respect of the other Horizon League Conference coaches, as Pewu and junior defender Thomas M’Barek were named to the All-Horizon League First Team, and Naeemy was named to the All-Freshman Team.
Going into next season, the team will have to find a way to continue the improvement, since the top three goal scorers will be graduating, as well as four of the top five assist leaders on the team.