Oct. 14, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - After a strong effort in Saturday's 2-0 victory over St. John's, Villanova returns to its home pitch at 4:00 p.m. to host Lehigh in hopes of recording back-to-back victories for the first time in 2013.
A goal from junior Aaron Dennis in the 13th minute helped get the Wildcats (5-6-1 overall, 1-3-0 BIG EAST) off on the right foot against the No. 22 Red Storm.
"That was our first BIG EAST lead," noted head coach Tom Carlin. "We've been talking to the guys about being more aggressive so that we put pressure on our opponent earlier. We did that. We created some chances. They had to chase us a little bit, which is a good feeling for us. Maybe we took a deep breath and it helped us."
The two Wildcats credited with assists on Saturday, sophomore Sean Sheridan who set up Dennis' score, and, senior Dylan Renna, whose work along the right sideline led to the cross that freshman John Jlopleh finished in the 58th minute, have helped Villanova develop more quality chances in the opponents' goalmouth.
"Renna has played well since the Penn game (Sept. 24)," stated Carlin. "That's when we put him up top for good. He really started creating more chances and became more of a physical presence than he was earlier. His consistency has been there for the most part since then.
"Seanie is a very good middle and long range passer. He has the ability to serve things into the box. It's our job to put him in positions where he can do that more often. You see what happens when he does get those chances. I think he's also settled into the season a little bit."
Another offensive catalyst, junior Oscar Umar, has worked at right back in recent outings as the coaching staff looks to give opposing defenses another wrinkle to consider. He has joined a back four that also features left back Liam Callahan and center backs Colton Bryant and Willis Griffith. Junior Matt Wiltse and sophomore Chris Hill also have logged important minutes guarding the Wildcats' wings and goalkeeper Andrew Weakly made eight saves in goal.
"Our backline has been very resilient," stated Carlin. "They have done a lot of work watching game tape and learning from their mistakes. They have taken in a lot of coaching. For them to get a shutout with a consistent effort is great for them. We are going to need them as we go.
"We knew Oscar could play back there. We wanted to take a look to see if it made us better as a team. As of right now, we like it. We think he gives us a different element going forward on the attack and we need that."
In 2011, a 3-1 victory over St. John's on West Campus ignited a late season run that culminated in a run that ended in the BIG EAST semifinals at Red Bull Arena. Can history repeat itself? While that is still to be determined, Carlin liked what he observed from his squad on Saturday.
"What I saw was a team that did whatever it had to do to win the game," stated Carlin. "That's the first time I have seen that to the completion of the game this year. We saw some of it against Marquette and saw glimpses of it at Butler. Against St. John's it was there for 90 minutes.
"(Saturday) wasn't how we had mapped it out. It was a little uglier than we had hoped it would be. But that's what successful teams do - find a way to get a result."
Villanova is in the midst of its fall break as it prepares to host Lehigh (1-8-1 overall, 0-4-0 Patriot League) Tuesday. Without most students on campus, the atmosphere may not be quite as frenzied as it often is when school is in session.
"When you look at the breaks you aren't sure if it's a good or bad thing," Carlin states. "The (student-athletes) are not in class which means they can focus on soccer so it's good in that sense. Then again, are they mentally on break? How are they approaching their break is always something we as coaches have to consider. If the environment is a little different, how do we respond to that?
"We will address that and be sure that practice (Monday) is not a break."
Kickoff for Tuesday's match is set for 4:00 p.m.
Notes: Jlopleh, a native of Baltimore, was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll and as Philadelphia Soccer Six Rookie of the Week for his efforts this week.