The Hoyas ventured into the Eagles’ nest Tuesday, only to emerge with the stinging wound of a surprising 4-1 defeat. It just took 60 seconds for the Blue and Gray to stumble and lose their footing on a match they had mostly dominated, and the Eagles made no mistake in pouncing on their prey and flying away with the victory bound securely to their talons.

The scoreless first half was mostly controlled by the Hoyas. There were a few painfully close chances at goal – including junior defender and co-captain Mark Zeman’s free kick that bounced off the crossbar – and a solid performance in goal by freshman redshirt Mark Wilber, who kept the score sheet clean for the Hoya defense. Wilber made two excellent saves in the 33rd minute to keep the Hoyas in the game.

It thus came as no surprise that the guest team made the first mark on the scoreboard. The midfield duo of sophomore Seth C’deBaca and junior Scott Larrabee linked superbly in front of goal in the 54th minute, with Larrabee timing his run down the left wing to perfection to put C’deBaca’s cross in the back of the net.

A number of close chances followed soon after, and the Hoya threat was looking stronger than ever. Just as victory was looking inevitable for the Blue and Gray, “an unfortunate turn of 60 seconds,” in the words of Head Coach Brian Wiese, “changed the whole complexion of the game.

“It started with a penalty kick, which was a little bit of a soft call,” he said. The penalty came in the 68th minute, when Wilber came off his line and fouled an American forward, which resulted in a yellow card not just for him but also for defenders Zeman and junior Len Coleman, who were punished by the referee for dissent.

“We gave up a needless penalty kick because there was no danger in the situation,” Wiese said. “Mark made an uncharacteristic mistake in conceding the penalty kick and [American] ended up tying the game.”

Within a minute of the penalty kick, senior midfielder Hunter Joslin was sent off with a straight red card after a tackle.

“So, within 60 seconds you go from having the game well in the hand, winning 1-0 and expecting a second or third goal to go in, to being suddenly tied and down a man, and the whole game changed obviously when that happened,” Wiese said.

With the Hoyas down to 10 men, the coach was forced into making risky adjustments, rolling the dice and taking off a defender to play with a backline of three, and depending on the attacking half of the team to try and regain the lead. The loss of a defender, however, played into the Eagles’ hands, and the hosts were able to add three more goals to their total, finishing the game with four goals to the Hoyas’ solitary one.

“People might think I’m crazy to say this,” Wiese said, “but we played very well. I think we’re actually playing some of the best soccer we’ve played all year at this time. It’s the nature of the game sometimes, though. You have some mental lapses, you lose some discipline, and the game is over. That’s soccer.”

The Hoyas will have to recuperate quickly as they will travel to Pittsburgh, Pa., tomorrow to face the Panthers on their home pitch.

“We have a game at a very competitive, very tough Pitt team which is hard to score on. They don’t concede a lot of goals,” Wiese said, “so we’ll be trying to grind out a win on the road on a dreadful soccer field against a good team.”

The coach also added that the upcoming stretch of games nearing the end of the season would be pivotal for the Hoyas’ postseason fate. With three more home games following the Pittsburgh matchup – two of which are against Big East teams – the Blue and Gray will be looking to earn some good results to put themselves in position for postseason play.

“Every game in the league now is wide open,” Wiese said. “We still are in a position to get a bye in the [Big East] tournament if we finish in the top two, but we could also not make it to the tournament at all if we finish in the bottom two. It’s a race for points now.

“I think we’re overdue to go on a good run again. We’ve talked about finishing the season as we started it, with a good run of victories,” he said.

The Hoyas and the Panthers will face off tomorrow at 1 p.m.

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