DES MOINES, Iowa - On the strength of sophomore Nick Marshall's (Glen Carbon, Ill./Edwardsville) goal in the 68th minute (67:14) and senior goalkeeper Jordan Kadlec (Hiawatha, Iowa/Kennedy) registering the Bulldogs' first shutout of the season, the Drake men's soccer team upended Bradley, 1-0, in the Missouri Valley Conference opener for both schools on Saturday (Oct. 8) at the Cownie Soccer Complex.
"I thought tonight was particularly rewarding because it set the tone for Missouri Valley Conference play as every game is worth twice as much," Bulldog head coach Sean Holmes commented. "I thought it was great to be able to reward our goalkeeper and back four for their continued good work with the shutout."
"I think the victory also serves to build our NCAA Tournament credibility. Bradley has been on a tear and this win has extra meaning. I've always thought we were capable of these results and now that we're getting them I think we've sent a clear message to the rest of the Valley and in fact across the Midwest, that our team is for real."
The first half proved to be a battle between two expected heavyweights in the race for the MVC title this season. The Bulldogs earned a 10-9 advantage in shots in the initial 45 minutes, but neither side was able to crack the scoreboard.
After a foul was whistled on Bradley just past the midfield stripe in the 68th minute, sophomore Logan North (St. Charles, Mo./Francis Howell North) took the free kick and served the ball into the box where Marshall flicked a header past Bradley goalkeeper Brian Billings for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Drake nearly extended the margin to 2-0 in the 88th minute (87:25) on a breakaway by senior Matt Kuhn (Raytown, Mo./Raytown South), but Kuhn's shot was lifted high to end the scoring chance.
"I'm only disappointed that we didn't turn it into 2-0 when we had the breakaway with less than three minutes remaining and failed to capitalize," said Holmes.
On the strength of outshooting the Bulldogs in the second half, 10-5, the Braves recorded a 19-15 shot margin in the affair.
"Bradley is the kind of team that seeks to physically dominate the game much like Northern Illinois two weeks ago," Holmes explained. "I'm not sure we would have won this game had we played two weeks ago, but our confidence and strength have clearly grown exponentially."
Christian Meza paced all played with a game-high seven shots for Bradley, while senior Charles Schwartz (Bettendorf, Iowa/Bettendorf) and sophomore Bryan Jantsch (Mission Hills, Kan./Rockhurst) led Drake with four and three shots, respectively.
Kadlec collected the Bulldogs' first shutout of the season pulling in a team-best six saves, while Billings registered a game-high seven saves.
"At one point in the season I never thought we'd win a 1-0 game given the mercurial nature of our team," stated Holmes. "I always feel we're going to score goals, but I have to be honest in the first six weeks I didn't know if we'd ever get a clean sheet, but when league play comes along people increase their resolve and sharpen their focus."
Holmes gave plaudits to his defensive back four along with midfielder Bryan Jantsch for their efforts in helping the Bulldogs garner the shutout.
"Our youthful back four of Kyle (Whigham), Nick (Marshall), Garrett (Crall) and Logan (North) played with far more poise then they have in the first half of the season. I thought our wide players especially Bryan (Jantsch), in probably his first 90-minute outing of the season, really responded."
He also gave credit to several players up front in Drake's offensive attack.
"Matt (Kuhn) and Jordan (Stanley) were sort of the engine room of the team and you always feel that as long as they're chugging along that we have a chance in any game. I also thought Hunter (Kennedy) and Thomas (Ostrander) were a real handful and though their efforts weren't rewarded, it was their work which dictated the pace of our attack."
Drake returns to action on Wednesday (Oct. 12) with a 7:00 p.m. tilt at Evansville.