Last season, it took until Nov. 10 for FIU men’s soccer to collect its first loss, and its second loss ended its season in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. This season, the Panthers are 0-2 and looking to rebound before their home opener.
On Friday night, No. 20 FIU had revenge in mind. The Panthers joined Duke and Elon as part of the 2018 John Rennie Nike Invitational in Durham, North Carolina. Duke handed the Panthers that second loss last season, and it was a perfect opportunity to respond. However, it was No. 10 Duke that scored first, with Suniel Veerakone earning and Ciaran McKenna converting a penalty kick just under goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux in the 43rd minute.
The Panthers evened the score just past halftime, as Nick O’Callaghan headed in a free kick from Hermann Trophy finalist Joris Ahlinvi in the 53rd minute to beat Duke keeper Will Pulisic (cousin of Christian).
The key moment, however, came in the 73rd minute, when FIU defender Jordi Avila picked up a red card. The Blue Devlis scored three minutes later (a Matthias Frick header) and again in the 80th minute with an unassisted Daniele Proch goal. The damage was done, and Duke again bedeviled the Panthers.
“The game had much adversity as Duke had three [penalty kicks] and we had an initial yellow card switched to a red card,” FIU head coach Kevin Nylen told FIUSports.com after the game. “We must push on, be more disciplined and respond with a strong performance against a strong Elon side.”
Unfortunately, Nylen didn’t get a strong performance from his team. What he got was FIU’s worst regular-season loss since a 4-1 downing against Florida Gulf Coast on Oct. 4, 2016.
Turned to ashes
Elon controlled the game, effectively pressing the Panthers into mistakes and confusion. The Phoenix’s first goal came from a poor clearance. Valdi Jonsson made the most of it, and knocked it in from 15 yards out in the 37th minute.
After the break, Elon scored thanks to some pressure from Iñigo Bronte and an own goal from the FIU defense. Jimmy Contino capped the scoring in the 73rd minute, tucking away a rebound off FIU keeper Fauroux.
“FIU is a very good team,” Elon head coach Marc Reeves told ElonPhoenix.com. “They play really good soccer and I thought we did a great job of pressing the right ways with an incredible team effort. … A 3-0 win is a great result against anyone, but against a ranked opponent like them puts us in a good position after losing on Friday.”
The Panthers now lick their wounds and return for their home opener at the FIU Soccer Stadium against Stetson on Friday at 7 p.m. It will be hard to imagine a result worse than the two they got from their opening road trip.