By Nathaniel Mata | Sports Editor
College soccer does not have stoppage time but UTRGV only needed 89:56 seconds tonight to knock off the UNLV Rebels 2-1. The last-second victory marks the first WAC win for the Vaqueros this season.
With time expiring and overtime looming Vaquero defender Alex Ochoa dribbled to the left of UNLV’s defense, centered the ball and found the toe of a Rebel trying to clear the ball. Instead it ended up in the back of the net for a dramatic win.
The home bench erupted, knowing full well that three points had been secured in the standings.
Much of the first half was a defensive struggle. UNLV controlled play early, but without many dangerous opportunities toward Vaquero goalkeeper Asa Aalto. In the win, Aalto was only called to make four saves.
Through 44 minutes there were no balls in the back of the net but it changed when UTRGV broke through. After taking a pass from Damian Roszcky, it was Ilias Kosmidis scoring his first collegiate goal at 44:14.
The lead for UTRGV was extremely short-lived. On the subsequent kickoff, UNLV’s Oscar Velazquez scored a goal from midfield. The ball flew the entire distance of the field, bounced off the crossbar and was ruled past the line for the equalizer.
Men’s soccer Coach Paul Leese condemned the lapse that lead to the tying goal.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the same things you hear me say,” Leese said. “For 44 minutes the guys were fantastic. They worked hard. They played well. I think the possession will reinforce that. But you have to be switched on for every second of the game.”
The second half was almost a mirror image of the first. Both teams had moments of ball control and possession but not enough grade-A chances to capitalize on.
UTRGV’s defense kept a high-powered offense limited. UNLV had outscored its WAC opponents 7-1 in its first two matches. Coach Leese pointed toward hard defensive work as a key to keeping the Rebels in check.
“Focus and work rate. The boys put that in for realistically 89 minutes,” he said. “We let ourselves down for that one minute on the equalizer, but they have some really good players. UNLV are a very strong team; they caused a lot of trouble tonight.”
As for the most exciting play of the night, and quite possibly the whole season, it was mad scramble. Ochoa, a defender playing up, charged with a sense of urgency and sent a cross that couldn’t be defended.
He explained his view of the play from his center that won his team the match.
“I just kept my eye on the play. The ball was inside and I knew it was going outside. I put it inside the six [yard box] and a great job for our players to put it in,” Ochoa said. “A big confidence booster when we get three points after a tie. We’re in good shape and we’re just looking to get into the next game.”
UTRGV heads out on the road for four straight conference matches. The Vaqueros will return to Edinburg for the final two home games Oct. 27 and 29 against the University of the Incarnate Word and Air Force Academy, respectively.