Men’s Soccer Eliminated by Syracuse 2-1 Despite Wolverton’s Heroics
Andrew Wolverton’s collegiate career came to a close in a fashion both befitting of his legendary status and heartbreaking all the same, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Syracuse yesterday in Syracuse.
The senior goalkeeper has been everything to the Nittany Lions throughout his career, making acrobatic saves and maintaining a sense of calm in the back that only comes with a great keeper. On Sunday, he had the game of his life, keeping Penn State in a game in which it had no business being. Wolverton’s was reminiscent of Tim Howard’s legendary performance for the USMNT in a 2-1 loss to Belgium in this year’s World Cup. Wolverton made eight total saves, split evenly between the two halves. His goal was bombarded by the Orange, as Syracuse took 19 shots. He was up to the task almost every time, as has been the case his entire career. A lesser keeper would not have escaped without at least two more of those 10 on-target shots becoming goals, but Wolverton put on an absolute display.
After a Connor Maloney penalty in the 60th minute gave Penn State a 1-0 lead, Syracuse kicked into overdrive. Emil Ekblom received a beautiful pass from Oyvind Alseth with some space on the right wing, beat the defense, and finally broke through against Wolverton. The little deft touch on the ball in the 74th minute was never getting saved. Sometimes, the attacking player gets in a great position, and even the best keeper is left on the turf.
Syracuse would strike again a few minutes later on a pin-perfect deep ball from Jordan Murrell. The center half dropped a 75-yard pass, as good a long ball as you will ever see, right into Alseth’s position on the right flank of Syracuse’s attacking third. Alseth delivered a decent cross from the end line that Wolverton seemingly handled. However, the ball escaped his grasp after a momentary loss of footing, and just barely eked its way over the line for the second goal. Just like that, a 1-0 lead was a 2-1 deficit, and Penn State’s keeper was mortal for a moment.
There was one final chance for Penn State to knot the score in the 88th minute, with Eli Dennis corralling a ball in the box, but the shot he got off was wide, and Syracuse killed the rest of the clock. The season’s end was a microcosm of its entirety for a Nittany Lions squad lacking for any sort of spark in the second half of the season, when they constantly played down to lesser teams. The same issues that came about in that late season slump — an inability to possess in midfield and the attacking third, lack of quality service to Maloney and Minutillo, lapses in man-marking — characterized the game.
Penn State took just five shots and forced Syracuse keeper Alex Bono to make no saves, the one shot on goal coming from the penalty. It was simply outclassed by a Syracuse team that fancies itself a contender, and will move on to play Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. Were it not for the brilliance of Wolverton, Penn State’s heartbreaker would have simply been an ugly loss in a second half of the season marred by them. But, as he has so many times in the past, he kept Penn State in it until the very end. The ball trickling in at the end will surely haunt him, but he played a borderline-infallible match before that, and the blame simply cannot be placed on the senior keeper. An over-reliance on Wolverton’s individual brilliance has plagued Penn State all season, and it caught up to the Nittany Lions in the end.
Next season will be the first time in four years he does not anchor this squad, and learning to play without him there to clean up the mess will be key for Bob Warming’s boys. Wolverton, the greatest man to call Jeffrey Field home, will most likely be drafted in the first five picks of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Penn State men’s soccer will reconvene at the end of next summer still loaded with talent. Both Wolverton and Penn State have potentially massive futures ahead of them, but how they take the next step without each other will be key.