Men's soccer cruises, shuts out Poets in victory

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The Occidental men’s soccer team (11-1-3 overall, 8-1-3 SCIAC) started off the homecoming festivities Saturday by crushing Whittier (5-8-1 overall, 4-7-1 SCIAC) 6-0. Valdair Martins-Lopes (senior) started the scoring by beating a six-man wall from outside the penalty area, and the Tigers never looked back. Right-back Liam Walsh (first-year), midfielder Ariel Rosso (first year), midfielder Daniel Lawson (senior) and forward Morgan Bennett-Smith (junior) also added their names to the scoresheet, with Lawson scoring a pair of goals in quick succession.

Earlier in the week, head coach Rod Lafaurie, who was unable to be on the sidelines due to accumulation of yellow cards during the Tigers’ game against Pomona-Pitzer Oct. 12, praised the culture of the team and the sense of family between his players.

Filling in for Lafaurie on the sideline, assistant coach Josh Ault also had nothing but praise for his squad.

“The culture of the team is something that we really try to emphasize, and these guys have done a good job of embodying the ‘one tiger’ mentality that we want to see from them,” Ault said. “We don’t want to see ’11 Tigers’ on the field. We want to see those guys play as ‘one tiger’ and play for each other.”

Even without their head coach on the sidelines, the Tigers were still able to secure three points and increase their goal tally to 41 on the season. The six goals from this game puts the Tigers at an average of 2.7 goals per game. Should the Tigers stay on pace and secure a top two finish in the SCIAC — they currently sit one point behind Redlands for the top spot — they would host a playoff game.

“I think it would be great not only for the players, but for the fans,” Lafaurie said. “It would just be fun to host a game, so we’ll stick with what has been working this season. [Hosting a playoff game] is definitely one of our goals.”

A home playoff game would be particularly special for the seniors, including Martins-Lopes.

“This really is a great group of guys,” Martins-Lopes said. “We hit a bit of a rough patch sophomore year, but most of those guys are still here. We’ve been through a lot, and we really have come a long way.”

Martins-Lopes, who leads the SCIAC with six assists on the year, is one of eight seniors on the squad. The development and growth of the current seniors over the last few years is exactly what Lafaurie, Ault and the rest of the Occidental coaching staff hope for from their players.

“Obviously you want your seniors to be your best players, but you also want your players that come in [as first years] to be talented and also to develop into great players,” Lafaurie said.

In addition to the seniors, Grayson Burdon (junior) and Bennett-Smith, who leads the Tigers with seven goals this season, have been with this team during the 2013 struggles and the successes like the current season. Following the game against Whittier, Burdon expressed his excitement about where the team is headed.

“These guys are special, no doubt,” Burdon said. “They really stand out and I’m really excited about where we’re going this year.”

With just four games remaining in the season, the high-scoring Tigers will look to solidify their place near the top of the SCIAC standings to secure a home game. This year at Jack Kemp Stadium, Occidental has won every game with the exception of a scoreless draw against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Sept. 30.

The second-place Tigers will travel to Redlands Oct. 21 and try to avenge their only loss against the first-place Bulldogs.