Occidental’s men’s soccer team (13–4) found themselves needing just one goal to clinch a playoff berth in a match against Chapman University in Jack Kemp Stadium Oct. 17. With a score of 1–1 at the end of regulation time, the Tigers headed into overtime knowing one goal would end the game via the golden goal rule and provide them with the three points they needed to guarantee a place in the SCIAC tournament.
With just over five minutes remaining in the second period of overtime and still no winning goal to be found, Occidental’s captain Liam Walsh (senior), the top-scorer in the conference, stood over a free kick in the final third of the field.
“Immediately when the foul happened, myself and Ben Simon [junior], who’s the other free kick taker on the team, had a quick discussion,” Walsh said. “Ben said, ‘You got it, you’re going to score this.'”
With four Chapman players forming a wall in front of him, Walsh lined up his shot, stepped up and struck the free kick.
“I could see immediately on the hit that it was going to be on frame, and I saw it deflect a little bit, kind of throwing the goalie off from where it was going,” Walsh said. “Once the deflection happened, you could see it was going in.”
Matthew Labrie (senior), who had not beaten Chapman before this night, described his reaction as the ball hit the back of the net.
“It was an absolute rush of happiness and joy,” Labrie said.
Walsh was then swamped by his teammates in a dog pile in the middle of the field as the team celebrated the goal and the win.
“Scoring the goal was such a great feeling, and to have everyone celebrate with me was really nice,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s goal was his 13th of the season (a tally which has since increased to 17) and head coach Rod Lafaurie was quick to praise the impact Walsh has had on the team.
“We’ve identified the best possible captain for this team in Liam, and his support from the rest of his peer leadership group has been outstanding,” Lafaurie said via email.
Labrie also commented on what a great leader Walsh has been for the program.
“He’s been a great role model, I think, for all the guys, working hard and staying positive throughout the games,” Labrie said.
Walsh chose to highlight the team’s overall unity as the key aspect of the program’s success this season.
“We work really hard on our team chemistry, and we’re kind of a collection of friends first and soccer players second, and I think you can see that out on the field when we’re playing together,” Walsh said. “We are driven to win but we’re all trying to have fun together too, because we really love being around each other and playing together.”
Coach Lafaurie also picked up on how this year’s squad seemed like a particularly special group.
“While the results have been good, working with the group has been the best aspect, they’ve been a phenomenal team to be a part of,” Lafaurie said via email.
With their regular season now completed, the team’s only remaining games will come in the SCIAC tournament as the team seeks to win the postseason conference title. Labrie explained why he was confident that his team can win the SCIAC championship.
“We’ve proven that we can compete with the top teams,” Labrie said. “We do have the talent, we do have the competing spirit to take the championship.”
A SCIAC championship match with either Claremont-Mudd-Scripps or Chapman awaits the winner of Occidental’s semifinal match against Redlands. Redlands is the only team in the SCIAC that defeated the Tigers in both of the team’s regular season’s games. Looking ahead to the postseason tournament, Lafaurie gave his outlook on the team’s chances of winning the SCIAC championship this weekend.
“I still feel like we’re the best team in the SCIAC, but the proof is in our daily work, so if we don’t have the most points or win the conference tournament, then its easy to make an argument that we are not,” Lafaurie said via email. “No matter what happens, looking at the games thus far, I know we can beat any SCIAC opponent, but knowing and doing are two different things, so we will have the next two weeks to prove it.”
The Tigers’ next match is against the University of Redlands Thursday, Nov. 3. If the Tigers win, they will compete in the SCIAC championship game Saturday, Nov. 5.