On the pitch: Sizing up the next opponents

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By Andrew Cahill

The Union College Dutchmen Soccer team suffered its first loss of the season last weekend at the hands of newly minted Liberty League member, Rochester Institute of Technology. While the loss was upsetting, there was no way the Dutchmen were going to continue on the torrid pace they had set for themselves. Prior to the loss, the Dutchmen had won seven straight games to start the season with a perfect 7-0. To put that record in perspective, there are 17 games this season, and seven total conference games. Or, to put it another way, the Dutchmen won ten games all of last season.

While the streak was impressive, the loss this weekend was painful. It immediately set Union back in the Liberty League standings, as they now start Liberty League play at 0-1. But, the bulk of the conference schedule awaits for the Dutchmen to prove themselves as viable contenders for the league title and beyond.

With that, here is a look ahead at the next two fixtures for the Dutch, their final non-conference matchup against Utica College on Saturday, a member of the Empire 8 Conference and a pivotal cross-town, Route 7 rivalry in Troy against RPI next Wednesday.

The Matchup: Utica College Pioneers (4-3 overall, 0-2 Empire 8 ) Oct. 1, 7 p.m., College Park Field.

Union should not take the Pioneers lightly. Despite their mediocre record on paper, Utica nearly knocked off a perennial Division III soccer power in SUNY Plattsburgh over two weeks ago before losing in overtime. The only common opponent each team has faced is Cazenovia College who the Dutchmen defeated 3-1 at home in the opening game of the Union Soccer Classic on Sept. 2. In a matchup of Central New York schools, Utica knocked off Cazenovia just five days later, shutting out the Wildcats 5-0. It is clear that the Pioneers have no problem of putting the ball in the back of the goal and punishing opposing defenses, as Utica averages three goals per game, tops in the Empire 8. Overall, the Pioneers are led in scoring by midfielders Kevin McAllister, the Empire 8 Player of the Week once already this year, and Jonathan Wood.  The two have combined to score eight goals and five assists so far this year. Union’s defense will look to silence the Pioneer offense and close out the 2011 non-league slate strongly in order to build momentum for the remaining Liberty League schedule.

The Rivalry: @ RPI (4-2-1 overall, 0-1 Liberty League) Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., Renwyck Field, Troy

The ferocity of the RPI-Union rivalry does not extend just to the ice and football field. On the Renwyck pitch, this matchup will be no less intense, as each team will be looking to solidify its Liberty League record. Like the Dutchmen, the Engineers dropped their conference opener to Vassar last weekend, losing 2-1 at home. Through RPI’s opening seven games, their defense has stood out as they have shut out their opponent in five of those first seven games. One would assume that five shutouts would lead the conference, but not in the Liberty League. St. Lawrence has six shutouts in eight games this fall, and they happen to be the current #1 ranked team in all of Division III soccer. Nonetheless, Engineer Sophomore goalkeeper Craig Bennett has been the standout with three of the RPI shutouts, having made 21 saves. Overall, RPI has only given up three goals on the season, making them number one in the conference just ahead of Union.

So don’t expect too many goals from this rivalry showdown with two stellar defenses matching up against one another. Union will have to be patient to find the back of the net and maintain their composure in what promises to be an emotional and physical contest.

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