CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Cleveland State University men's soccer team struck first at Cincinnati, but for the second straight match the Vikings were done in by a penalty kick as the host Bearcats claimed a 2-1 victory in each team's non-conference finale Tuesday evening at a crisp Gettler Stadium.
Cincinnati was the sixth non-conference side that CSU has faced this season that is among the top 80 in the NCAA's RPI rankings. Five of those six matches have come away from home.
Playing its final non-League match in advance of a crucial Horizon League contest this weekend, head coach Kirk Harwat made five changes to his starting lineup from the side that featured this past Saturday at UIC. In doing so, Cleveland State started four true freshmen on its defensive line for the first time this season.
Cincinnati tried to take an early lead when a Bearcat hit an ambitious shot from distance. The effort skimmed off the crossbar and over the goal although redshirt junior keeper Pavle Majerle may have had the shot covered anyway.
The next 15 minutes or so were relatively lacking in quality chances for either side, but the Vikings soon changed that.
In the 23rd minute, after winning the ball in his defensive third, senior co-captain Hesham Hammouda dribbled forward before playing DiFranco near the midline. DiFranco then passed back to Hammouda in the center of the pitch. After letting the ball run, Hammouda played over to sophomore Lawrence Karpeh on the right flank.
Karpeh played a brilliant diagonal ball on the ground to pick out DiFranco's back post run. The junior was calm and composed on the ball and took his time to send a high, curling effort into the top near corner of the netting.
The Vikings had a couple chances to add another tally, including when DiFranco got down the right flank and played a lateral pass to Hammouda, who had his powerful shot knocked away by the Bearcat keeper.
However, the hosts would score the game's next goal. Elias Helbig had space on the ball on the left flank and served it into the area where Mason Volker won a 1v1 header from about 10 yards away, placing it high into the netting.
Each team had another chance or two to retake the lead, but the sides entered the interval even.
In the 48th minute, freshman Thomas M'Barek made a huge goal line clearance of a Bearcat shot to likely preserve the draw for the time being.
In the 61st minute, Karpeh, classmate Gabriel Pewu and DiFranco had some nice combination play in the attacking third, but DiFranco was just unable to get a shot off after trying to round the keeper.
Cincinnati would get what proved to be the winning goal in the 76th minute via a penalty kick.
The Vikings had a couple decent looks in search of a late equalizer but could not find the mark. In the 84th minute, Pewu got the ball in the box and laid it off to Noah Pio, but the junior's blast from near the edge of the area was high.
CSU's last chance may have been its best. In the 88th minute, senior Kareem Banton got down the left flank and served a ball into the box. With the goalie coming out, Pewu got to the ball first and headed it, but the ball just sailed wide.
Majerle made five saves for CSU. While it was on the wrong side of a penalty kick for the second straight match, Cleveland State remained the only team in the Horizon League this season that has not been awarded one.
After playing its road finale Tuesday, Cleveland State returns home this Saturday, Oct. 28, for its penultimate match of the season as it welcomes Wright State at 7:00 p.m.