by Matthew Hevel
The No. 9 Missouri State men’s soccer team (13-0, 7-0 MVC) continued its historic 2019 campaign by claiming a program-best 13th consecutive victory in a thrilling 2-1 win over Evansville (2-11-1, 0-7 MVC) here on Saturday evening at Betty and Bobby Allison South Stadium.
With members of the 1999 MSU team on hand, coach Jon Leamy’s team held off a late surge by the visiting Purple Aces to keep their undefeated streak intact. The 1999 Bears previously owned a share of the school record for consecutive wins (12), with the team posting a 17-1-2 mark during their memorable run that included an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Tonight’s match was hard fought and a true battle between both teams,” said Leamy. “Give a lot of credit to the guys for competing and coming away with the three points.”
Just minutes into the match, MSU found itself in a familiar position, scoring the opening goal for the 10th time this season. Nicolo Mulatero put the Bears on the board with a header following a corner kick that deflected off of teammate Greg Stratton to give MSU an early 1-0 lead.
The Bears almost had their second set piece goal of the match in the 36th minute as Jack Denton sent in an MSU free kick to find Ben Stroud on a header, but Stroud was ruled offside as the score remained at 1-0 going into halftime.
MSU notched another goal in the opening minutes of second half as Matthew Bentley scored to boost the Bears to a two-goal lead. The senior forward broke free from a pair of Evansville defenders and launched his team-high ninth goal this season.
The Purple Aces’ attack dialed up the pressure for the remainder of the second half, recording 11 of their 14 shots in the latter half of the match. In the 65th minute, Evansville’s Jakub Hall slipped behind the MSU backline and fired a shot past goalkeeper Michael Creek to draw the Purple Aces within one. It was the first goal allowed in the second half or overtime this season for the Bears’ defense that leads the Missouri Valley Conference in goals against average (0.460).
In an intense final 15 minutes that saw Evansville tally four shots, Creek and the MSU defense held strong with the junior goalkeeper collecting two crucial saves to secure the Bears’ 2-1 win.
With his second half goal, Bentley continued his stellar five-match scoring stretch, racking up a total of seven goals in that span.
The Purple Aces became the latest Valley team to fall prey to the Bears as the conference’s frontrunners won their seventh league game this year, matching the 2001 and 2009 team for most in a season.
With the result tonight, the Bears have a chance to clinch the MVC regular season title this weekend. A Loyola loss Sunday against Drake would give MSU the necessary points to seal the program’s eighth regular season conference championship.