For a team its own coach claimed lacks a “leadership presence,” midfielder Matt McDonnell is certainly doing all he can to be exactly that for the Boston University men’s soccer team. The sophomore netted his team-leading fourth goal of the season on Tuesday night as the Terriers (5-7-2, 4-1 Patriot League) played Northeastern to a 1-1 draw after 110 minutes in Brookline.
Faced with an abundance of injuries, BU coach Neil Roberts switched up his lineup, and while he acknowledged it still needs tinkering, he was pleased with the results.
“It was a hard fought game,” Roberts said. “We kind of mixed up our lineup a little bit, brought some news guys in. So, you know, we were okay with it. We were ok. The effort was good, the communication struggled a little bit but there were a lot of different guys out there and I thought we did well.”
The new-look Terriers featured a revamped back four and a goalkeeper making the first start of his collegiate career, but Roberts’ squad remained composed from the opening kickoff.
As has been the case for much of October, it was a shot off the foot of McDonnell that proved to be the difference for BU’s offense.
After a relatively quiet first thirty minutes, the Terriers came alive in the 37th minute on a throw-in from freshman defender Maxwell Aunger.
McDonnell took possession of the ball from three strides inside the Terriers’ left flag, navigated his way around four Huskies (2-10-3) defenders and snuck a shot just past Northeastern goalkeeper Noah Abrams’ right shoulder.
The Smithtown, New York native has seven points in the Terriers’ last four games, only one of which was a loss.
“He came in injured and had to work his way into it fitness-wise and I think the last three games he’s done very well,” Roberts said.
Roberts hesitated when asked whether he believes McDonnell can become the prolific scorer BU’s offense has so desperately missed this season. Following the retirement of Anthony Viteri due to concussions, BU has prescribed to the “next man up” mentality and it appears that’s the philosophy Roberts will continue to follow.
“We’re gonna be a team that everybody’s gotta kind of chip in and get a few goals,” he said. “We don’t have that one guy like a [Viteri] that’s gonna really disrupt defenses so its gonna have to be bits and pieces all over.”
Those additional “bits and pieces” did not manifest themselves in Tuesday’s final non-conference game. Despite going into halftime with seven shots to the Huskies’ six, BU’s spacing at times looked unorganized and its offense out of sync.
Both teams had a corner kick within the game’s first five minutes, but neither attempted a shot until the 6:33 mark when senior BU goalkeeper Bjorn Kammholz rushed off his line to stop a shot from forward Harry Swartz.
The 6-foot-1 Kammholz, who before Tuesday night had only played 60 minutes of college soccer, performed well in his first start.
“In first half he had to make a couple big saves – it was good,” Roberts said. “He did very well. He hasn’t got to play a lot over the last three years so he definitely deserved it.”
Kammholz got the opportunity due to inconsistent goalkeeping from sophomore Michael Bernardi, who has gotten the majority of playing time in net while freshman William Bonnelyche is sidelined.
Though Bernardi sports an impressive 1.29 goals against average, he has four wins and four losses on the year.
Roberts did not provide a timetable for Bonnelyche’s return, and while it is not certain that he’ll retain the starting job, the competition will be good for all three keepers.
“[Bonnelyche’s] getting back, it’s been a long time,” Roberts said. “He hopefully will be training this week but he’s running, he’s almost there.”
Kammholz more than held his own against Abrams, who was also making his first collegiate start.
Northeastern came out of the locker-room with a much more aggressive attack and nearly netted the equalizer in the 49th minute. Making his first start at right back, Adama Kaba made a right-to-left run through the midfield and unleashed a powerful shot that was saved by Kammholz.
The Huskies persisted, and in the 77th minute knotted the score at one thanks to Burlington native Dan Munch.
Hugging the left sideline, defender Lewis Aird skied a cross from the edge of Northeastern’s attacking third to junior Khori Bennett at the right corner of the 18-yard box. Bennett found a charging Munch, who struck a right-footed shot past a diving Kammholz for his first goal of the year.
While BU created some good opportunities in the closing minutes of regulation, Roberts wishes his team was more uniform defensively.
“We’re not gonna get a lot of goals so we’re gonna have to be a little bit better defensively than we were today,” Roberts said. “With [junior back Ben Valek] being out, we’ve gotta be able to defend better.”
The Terriers dominated possession, an area of concern Roberts had previously identified, in both overtime periods, but junior midfielder Nicki Wieners had a pair of shots go just wide.
Though it took five games for them to find the back of the net, the Terriers still find themselves tied for first place in the Patriot League with the most grueling part of the conference schedule on the horizon.
Injuries to Valek and junior back Colin Chiakpo have decimated their defense. In order for BU to take home the Patriot League crown, Roberts believes finding consistency in the back four is crucial.
When asked how he felt that new group meshed on Tuesday, he responded, “Luckily we have three days to work on it.”
Those three days will be key for BU as it continues to get healthy and find its form on both sides of the ball.
When they take the field on Saturday at home against Navy for senior day, Roberts is not concerned about their standing in the league – he’s only focused on getting points.
“We have some tough games left and everybody right now is still alive and needs points so nothing’s gonna be easy,” Roberts said. “We’re gonna have to fight and claw and get every point that we can get.”