142-76-14 (.642) record since 2001
PELLA — It wasn’t a favorable result but coach Garry Laidlaw saw the kind of improvement he was hoping for as the Central College men’s soccer team held off No. 20 Wis.-Oshkosh until late in the second half of a 1-0 season-opening loss Friday.
With both squads substituting liberally on the steamy August afternoon, Wis.-Oshkosh eventually broke through against the Dutch as Javier Simon punched home a rebound in the 70th minute.
But goalkeeper Austin Little (sophomore, Des Moines, Lincoln HS) made seven saves in his debut as a starter as Central withstood a 20-shot assault. The Dutch mustered five shots and trailed in shots on goal 8-2.
Central has eight seniors but it’s an otherwise youthful squad that faced a steep learning curve at the start of the year.
“The team overcame a tremendous amount of challenges in the first week or so of preseason,” Laidlaw said. “We put in a lot of work last week on our team shape and getting better defensively. Even though we didn’t win the game today, this team has taken some great strides going forward.”
While Wis.-Oshkosh rolled up a lopsided shot advantage, the Titans didn’t have many serious scoring opportunities.
“I thought we did a good job of limiting their chances,” Laidlaw said. “We closed down the space well.”
The veteran coach liked what he saw from his new goalkeeper, Little.
“Our goalkeeping was excellent, for the most part,” Laidlaw said.
Of course, work remains.
“We know what we need to do better,” he said. “We need to keep the ball better, we need to connect more passes and clearly we need to generate more opportunities in the attacking third. But credit to Oshkosh, they’re in the top 20 in the nation for a reason.
“We still have a lot of work to do but I think the players now realize the benefit of the work they’ve put in over the last five days.”
The Dutch were unlucky in losing defender Jeremy Dolder (junior, Iowa City, West HS) to injury shortly before Wis.-Oshkosh got the game’s only score.
“The guys who came in in back filled in very well,” Laidlaw said. “But Jeremy is our communicator back there. We lost our organization for just a brief moment and against a team like Oshkosh, you can’t do that.”
But Laidlaw was encouraged by his new players, including defender Calvin Bill (freshman, Hartsburg, Mo., Southern Boone County HS), midfielder Salvador Villanueva (freshman, Morris, Ill., Morris HS) and midfielder Bryce Leonard (freshman, Williamsville, Ill.), who were starters in their collegiate debut.
“They’re still learning what college soccer is all about,” Laidlaw said. “But they made a good account of themselves.”
The Dutch make a quick turnaround, hitting the road Friday evening and taking on Minn.-Morris at 3 p.m. Saturday in the second game of a women’s-men’s twinbill. The Cougars were 12-9-1 last year but 11-3-1 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and are picked to place second in the league this season. Minn.-Morris opened by playing host to St. John’s (Minn.) Friday evening.
“They’ve got some tournament experience,” Laidlaw said. “They’ll be one of the top teams in their league.”
The Dutch will look to make the same kind of progress offensively that they showed on defense Friday.
“You can only address so many areas at one time,” Laidlaw said. “Clearly we needed to get better defensively and we were better today. Now we need to work on the other end of the field.”