Wheeling, W. Va. – On Wednesday night, the Wheeling University Men’s Soccer (6-8-1, 6-6-1) had a chance to clinch a Mountain East (MEC) playoff spot with a win. As they move to Saturday that chance still remains as the Cardinals get set to host Davis & Elkins at 7:30 p.m. A Cardinal win or a loss by West Liberty to West Virginia Wesleyan earlier in the day would clinch Wheeling their first MEC playoff spot since the 2018 season.
In their last game, the Cardinals would battle throughout the night but fell to Concord 2-0. The Cardinals out shot the mountain lions throughout the night, but just couldn’t sneak a ball to the back of the net. In the first half Wheeling outshot Concord 9-5 and senior goalkeeper Austin Aaron did his part making three big saves to keep the game scoreless. However, in the 49th minute Concord was able to get on the board with their first goal to take a 1-0 lead. The two teams went back and forth over the next 25 plus minutes as Wheeling tried to find their way on the board. Concord would end up getting a big insurance goal in the 79th minute to put the game out of reach at 2-0. The Cardinals took their share of opportunities with 26 shots on the night but will work on being more efficient after putting just 11 of those on net.
It was a big night for Aaron despite the loss as he made five saves on seven shots faced. Over his last four games Aaron has saved 70% or more of his shots faced in every game and picked up a career high three wins on the season. After a rough start to the year, Aaron has turned it around and is playing a big role in net down the stretch. He is also getting help by his front defensive line including Armando Loynaz, Aaron James, and Adam Edvinsson who have all done a nice job of keeping the ball out of the offensive zone. If the Cardinals are going to make a run in this year’s tournament, the defense will be relied on to keep some of the high scoring offenses at bay.
On the offensive side, freshman Diego Buenano and Junior Richard Afolayanka have been leading the way with six goals each this season. Both have gone on hot streaks at one point or another during the year and they look to get in sync over these final three games. Afolayanka has had the hot hand going as of late, with three goals in his last five games. After scoring just three goals through the first 10 games of the season, Afolayanka has come on strong and looks to continue that success as the year winds down. Buenano conversely got off to a hot start but has been held at Bay over his last few games. He hasn’t scored since the Frostburg game back on October 8th and will be looking to get on the board here in this one.
With 3 weeks left the Cardinals at 6-6-1 sitting in fourth place in the MEC standings. They have a two-game lead over West Virginia Wesleyan and are currently leading West Liberty by 10 points. If the Cardinals can pick up a win or West Liberty loses on Saturday, the Cardinals will secure one of the top six seeds in the Mountain East Conference. However, they still have work to do in order to secure a first-round home playoff game needing two wins in the last three games or a win and a West Virginia Wesleyan loss. At the beginning of the year, Wheeling set ag oal to be one of the top four teams in the conference. They have made that goal a reality so far and look to keep it that way as they wind down the regular season.
The Cardinals and Senators are meeting for the 21st time in program history on Saturday, with Davis & Elkins leading the all-time series with a record of 10-7-3. It will be their 11th meeting in Wheeling, and in those games they are 4-6 all time. They are averaging 1.65 goals per game in the all-time matchup and will look to get the offense going in this one.
Earlier this season, Davis & Elkins would pick up a 9-2 win over Wheeling in Elkins, West Virginia. The Cardinals got on the board first in the game on a Diego Buenano goal, but the Senators scored nine unanswered goals, seven in the second half. Carlos Molina got the start in that game, and made 13 saves on 22 shots faced.