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Clinical Pilots Hold Off CMU In MCAC Men’s Soccer Semifinal

There was no magic left in their old silk hats on Saturday afternoon as CMU were outscored 2-0 by the Providence Pilots in the 2019 MCAC Men's Soccer semifinal.

Round 1 of the 2019 Final Fours resembled 2018 in so many ways. Twelves months changed nothing as the Brandon Bobcats held down top-spot followed by the Pilots, Blazers and Rouges. In fact, after 45 minutes played on Saturday, the Providence versus CMU matchup was an utter deja of 2018; chances, shots, possession all belonging to the Blazers, but the Pilots holding the important advantage on the scoreboard.

The first good chance of the opening half came to CMU in the 15th minute, the result of a cornerkick. Victor Hugo's ball played into the six-yard box was spilled by Providence goalkeeper Justin Hoffmann, resulting in a mad scramble of bodies diving in front of goal. An eventual half-clearance was intercepted by Yeri Concepcion but his shot attempt from 20 yards was blocked by a Pilot's defender who slid in desperation.

Four minutes later, the Pilots would open the scoring. After bypassing their midfield in their build-up play, Austin Blackwell gallopped down the right wing and passed into the path of attacking midfielder Gio Benitez who powerfully one-timed the game's first goal past Reed Fitzgerald before the rookie goalkeeper could react. 1-0 for the hosts after 20 minutes played.

In minute-29 CMU winger Jonathan Monsevula came within inches of equalizing. The chance came as a result of Joel Kisabo's low shot that forced Hoffmann to dive to his right to make a critical save. The ball squirted free from the Providence goalkeeper, running parallel to the goal line before Monsevula slid to meet it, his left foot shooting the ball back across the face of goal and directly through the six yard area, needing only a touch to even the teams before halftime.

A flurry of chances, one for each team, came just before the referee's whistle to signal the end of the first half. The first belonged to the Pilots who recorded only their second shot of the half after fullback Johnny Fulford broke down the left wing and picked out the right boot of Blackwell who forced a great save from Fitzgerald who dove left to deny the speedy forward.

When on the ball, the CMU midfield was electric with strong combination play from Will Anderson, Ryan Jensen and Concepcion, who appeared almost wired to each other and to the support runs of the attackers in front of them. Concepcion was the beneficiary of a high-quality passing move created by Kisabo and Victor Hugo who sent Concepcion in on Hoffmann in the 41st minute, but again the Providence goalkeeper proved himself capable, diving left to keep the Blazers off the scoreboard.

Despite being down a goal the second half started slow, highlighted by numerous fouls and with the majority of play taking place away from the danger areas. Caleb Jutzi made himself an immediate presence after he was substituted into the match in the 68th minute as CMU searched for more direct running from their attackers. Away from the ball, in the 75th minute, the referee and linesperson both spotted Pilots' defender Santi Hildebrand dilberately trip the leggy 6'2 stiker at the edge of the penalty area. The resulting yellow card was Hildebrand's second of the match, sending the defender off the field and reducing the Pilots to 10 men. On top of the dismissal, the Blazers still had a good chance to tie but Matheus Moreno's bending free-kick from 20 yards out was too close to goal to give the Brazilian winger's shot enough time to dip below the crossbar.

Moments later, Benitez made a clinical final pass to send Bret Sveinson behind the pressing CMU defenders on a Providence counter-attack. Kieran Baydock recovered in time to challenge the Pilots' winger, but Sveinson cut back inside to shoot, beating Fitzgerald but not the goal post.

CMU amassed a total of 20 shot attempts to the Pilots 5 over Saturday's 90-plus minutes, but perhaps none were better than the chance that fell to Moreno one minute into stoppage time. After Concepcion's pass encouraged a shot from Jensen and was blocked by a Providence defender, the fifth-year captain jumped back on the loose ball and picked out a short pass behind the Providence defenders to an onrushing Moreno. Gathering himself quickly to shoot, Moreno released a strong goal-bound shot only to see Hoffmann emerge again as the hero as he dove to his right for his 10th save of the match.

With all hands on deck trying for a late equalizer, Benitez ran onto a Providence clearance from the halfway line and was in alone on Fitzgerald, scoring his second of the match in the 95th minute to send the Pilots through to Sunday's MCAC Men's Soccer Championship Final. Benetiz and Jensen would be selected by the MCAC as the top players in the match for their respective teams.

The semfinal exit was a tough pill to swallow for the Blazers, who advanced past Providence in 2018 with two second half goals to win 2-1 and then surprised the top-seeded Brandon Bobcats with a 1-0 victory in the MCAC Men's Soccer Final to raise their first conference championship trophy since 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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