BY DANIEL STEENKAMER
Managing Sports Editor
You can hear Delaware men’s soccer goalkeeper Adam Vik talk his game from anywhere.
That is what Blue Hens head coach Tommy McMenemy was reminded of Thursday night during his team’s match-winning penalty kicks over Drexel University in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) tournament first round.
Vik backed up his chatter heard near and far by turning away enough Dragon chances to send Delaware (4-2 PKs) to its first CAA semifinal appearance since 2016. The Hens are set for a meeting with No. 1 seed and host Hofstra University on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
“We all know that goalkeepers are built a little bit differently, wired a bit differently,” McMenemy said postgame. “Adam’s no exception. He’s got a big personality, and I was just saying to the coaches that that’s a moment where you really need it. He was excellent. It’s something we prepare him [for] and work on in training throughout the season, and even to the point of how much he can push that gamesmanship. But he knows how to get into people’s heads and he’s an excellent shot-stopper.”
Fifth-seeded Drexel forced fourth-seeded Delaware into PKs by climbing out of a 2-0 deficit in the first half and taking a defensive battle through the second half and both overtimes. As the temperature cooled with sunset, so too did the offenses.
The Blue Hens’ response to their vanished lead at halftime, when it was 2-2, was pleasing to McMenemy and made a happy trip back from Hempstead, New York.
“We started four true freshmen across our back four today,” McMenemy said. “Five true freshmen in the team against a team that’s been playing together and succeeding over the last three years or so–five grads in their starting lineup. So, for a team to give up a 2-nil lead as young as we are and have the resilience to come out and not just hang on, but actually improve the performance and be the better team in the second half, was incredible.”
McMenemy praised his squad’s play through the fatigue of double overtime after a bus ride to Long Island.
“We managed it,” McMenemy said. “So much of what we do on the training ground came to the fore today as we got tired. It wasn’t our best day in terms of our quality, but they deserved an opportunity at the end and we took advantage of the penalties behind Adam’s performance.”
Delaware opened the scoring against Drexel in the 13th minute by way of senior forward Carlos Fernandez’ goal streaking down the pitch on the assist by junior midfielder Orri Thorhallsson. McMenemy called it “a goal in transition, where we’ve been dangerous all year.”
The Blue Hens’ second score came on a miscue by the Dragons in front of their own net. Delaware junior forward Sam Donnellan cleaned up the loose ball with a straightaway, close-range shot that put the Hens up by a pair less than a minute after Fernandez’ strike.
“The second goal, you could look at it and say it’s a fluke, but you don’t get that goal unless you press the ball effectively, you press the ball from the right angle,” McMenemy said. “And yeah, we got a bit of luck with it.”
Delaware’s second-year head coach sees his unit, which is keyed by three CAA All-Rookie selections, still striving to display its own brand of offensive soccer.
“We’re really working hard to forge our own identity so that we don’t have to adjust for the opposition,” McMenemy said. “I think that we’ve been doing that as a program for too long. We’d like to get to a point where the opposition has to think about what we’re going to do and what we’re going to bring.
“So we have some attacking principles that we work on, day in, day out, and [that] I talk about probably too much. But they were there today.”
Vik was there, too, backing up a Delaware defense that held down the fort in the face of pressure and all that comes with a win-or-go-home, tied score in regulation. The Blue Hens’ keeper finished with four saves on top of the stops accrued in the game-clinching shootout.
The vocal Vik, a junior, is among the upperclassmen providing Delaware with leadership necessary to survive in such a tight league tournament.
“The seniors deserve so much,” McMenemy said. “We have a couple guys injured, a couple guys that haven’t seen a ton of minutes. And I’m telling you, they’re as influential as any number of the young players that have played high minutes. They know what came before this group.”
The Hens’ seniors with less playing time have kept spirits high.
“They could sulk, they could go quiet, but they’ve been leaders in the locker room,” McMenemy said. “They’re the loudest voices when we go in at halftime before the coaches step in.”
Delaware will need every bit of that energy when it opposes Hofstra in Sunday’s semifinal. The Pride entered the CAA tournament and its first-round bye ranked 17th in the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 poll.
Delaware’s signature win this season is its upset of Hofstra, which came on Oct. 14 in a 2-1 final.
Replicating that effort would deliver Delaware to the CAA tournament final with an automatic NCAA playoff berth on the line.
Before the semis arrive, the Blue Hens return to Newark after their opening-round knockout of Drexel. McMenemy views the chance to get home between games, despite the looming loop back to Hofstra Soccer Stadium, as an opportunity to take advantage of Delaware’s sport performance, nutrition and analytics resources.
“We’ve told the boys before: You play the national championship over a weekend, a Thursday-Sunday, so why should it be any different in this situation, right?” McMenemy said. “The long-term goal is to compete nationally, so to do that, you have to be able to compete in these environments.”