By Abram Erickson
Following an impressive 1-0 double-overtime win over Lake Forest College on Tuesday night, the number 19-ranked Wheaton Thunder Men’s Soccer team has improved to 6-2-1 on the season and looks strong headed into their upcoming conference schedule.
Wheaton started the season with two wins in the Bob Baptista Invitational. In front of a home crowd of 1,884 Thunder fans between the two games, Wheaton beat Wittenburg University and 25th-ranked St. Norbert College, 5-0 and 4-1, respectively.
In these season-openers, fans got their first look at the freshman Thunder players. Six of the nine goals scored by the Thunder over their first two matches were slotted by first-year players. Freshmen Silas Galvao and Alessandro D’Argento scored one goal apiece over the weekend, while Michael Groza and transfer sophomore Stafford Dowling each added two goals over the two-game stretch.
Although the freshmen and sophomores performed well throughout the tournament, seniors Peter Whallon, Will Woodfin and Miseker Wingate also contributed goals to round out the Thunder’s nine goals in the invitational.
“We’re very fortunate with the freshman class this year,” said Assistant Coach Marcelo Galvao in a postgame interview following his team’s 5-0 victory over Wittenburg. “We have 11 freshmen coming in, and several of them have the capability of stepping in and playing.”
Moving on from the opening tournament, the Thunder took a two-game road trip to Ohio, where they dropped two games against Ohio Wesleyan University and Kenyon College, falling to 2-2 on the season.
The game against Ohio Wesleyan was a 2-0 shutout loss for the Thunder. Although they were able to score twice in the second game, it wasn’t enough to top Kenyon in a 3-2 loss.
Returning to Joe Bean Stadium for a four-game homestand proved to be just what the Thunder needed to get back on track. They won three games and played to one tie over the stretch.
The Thunder beat Iowa Wesleyan University 4-1 and Albion College 4-0 in the first week of the homestand to improve to 4-2.
In the second week, the Thunder faced off against two capable opponents: number six-ranked University of Chicago (UChicago) and Washington University (WashU).
On Sept. 17, the Thunder played to a 1-1 double-overtime tie against the UChicago Maroons. UChicago scored within the first minute of action, going up 1-0 just 18 seconds into the game. The Thunder finally equalized the score in the 85th minute off of a difficult shot by sophomore Joey Sopikiotis. Neither team was able to score during extra time, leaving the match at a 1-1 draw.
The match on Friday, Sept. 20 had a more favorable outcome in store for the Thunder, as they beat WashU 3-2. The game served as an opportunity for the Thunder to exact some revenge for last year’s heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Bears on their home turf in St. Louis. The Thunder led 2-0 shortly after halftime following a goal by Groza, which added to the 1-0 lead the Thunder had already achieved after D’Argento scored early in the first half. The Bears looked to storm back, scoring twice in a short span in the second half, but Galvao scored the game-winning goal in the 72nd minute to ensure the 3-2 Thunder victory.
The Thunder played in their third close match in a row this Tuesday when they traveled to Lake Forest, Ill., and ultimately prevailed over Lake Forest College in a 1-0 double-overtime thriller. Both teams remained scoreless through the 90 minutes of regulation and the first 10-minute extra-time period, despite combining for 10 shots on goal in the first 100 minutes of action. Although the Thunder had plenty of good chances to take the lead throughout the game, it took until late in the second overtime for them to finally put the game away. In the 108th minute, Joey Sopikiotis flicked a long ball toward the right post, allowing Galvao to soar and send a header past the Forresters defense and into the net, ending the game in dramatic fashion with only 1:55 of extra time remaining.
Now with a record of 6-2-1 and ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2015, Wheaton has relied on a balanced attack from across their squad on both the offensive and defensive sides of play. Twelve Thunder players have scored during the season, and five Thunder players — Galvao, Dowling, Whallon, Groza and D’Argento — lead the team with three goals each. Four other Thunder players have scored multiple times.
Junior goalkeeper Hasten Biddlecome has been the backbone of the Thunder defense thus far. He has a .859 save percentage with 61 saves on the year, and has already been named CCIW Defensive Player of the Week twice this season. Juniors Justin Hill, Ryan Melgar and AJ Moyes have also been keys to the Thunder defense, allowing only 10 goals through eight games.
Bolstered by their success in the last five games, the Thunder look to continue to improve as they head deeper into the season. They will begin their CCIW schedule against Elmhurst College on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m.