ETSU's #24 Jonny Campbell, and Kentucky's #20 Cameron Mohseni scramble for the ball during the Thursday night game in Summers-Taylor Stadium, ETSU. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
It wasn’t a masterpiece, but East Tennessee State soccer coach Scott Calabrese couldn’t help but smile when he looked at the scoreboard.
It read ETSU 1, Kentucky 0.
“We weren’t playing particularly well,” Calabrese said. “But we were able to find a goal and be gritty, and in the end I’m happy with the result. I’m always happy when we win.”
The Bucs won their home opener Thursday night at Summers-Taylor Stadium with a crowd of 1,062 on hand as Thibault Civalier, a freshman from Nice, France, scored shortly after halftime.
“Scoring a goal is always good,” Civalier said. “I’m happy for the team.”
ETSU improved to 3-2 all-time against Conference USA teams — yes, Kentucky plays in Conference USA because the Southeastern Conference doesn’t do men’s soccer.
The Bucs broke the ice 1:50 into the second half. Jonny Campbell sent a low corner kick toward the top of the penalty area to Nate Hodges, a strong-legged defender who was sneaking up into the attack. Hodges blasted an 18-yard shot which was tipped away by Kentucky goalie Jack Van Arsdale. Civalier was in the right place to hammer home the rebound from close range.
“He snuck up,” said Campbell, a fifth-year senior from Johnson City. “The Kentucky players weren’t really ready for him. I saw Nate coming up and played the ball to him because I knew he could have a shot if they didn’t notice him.”
ETSU (1-1) wound up out-shooting the Wildcats (1-1) 10-5. Bucs goalie Ryan Coulter was called on to make two saves in recording his first shutout of the season and the 16th of his career.
Campbell came on in the 27th minute and his presence was felt. His corner kick with 1:10 left in the first half set up Emmanuel Wilson for a header which appeared on its way to the back of the net. Instead, a Kentucky defender cleared the ball off the line before it crossed. Campbell’s short through-ball about 30 seconds later created another chance, but the Bucs came up empty again.
The Science Hill graduate had another chance before he left the game, and his blast from long range went just wide in the 68th minute.
“Jonny works hard,” Coulter said. “That’s what you’ll always get out of Jonny Campbell, hard work and commitment. Him being a local lad, he cares. He cares about the program. We all do, but him being a local lad, you can always trust him to have that spark.”
Campbell wasn’t the only substitute to shine. Calabrese pointed out the play of freshman midfielder Jeffrey George and freshman striker William Nordenstrom, who started in place of the injured David Geno.
“Excellent contributions from people who don’t typically play a ton of minutes,” Calabrese said. “Jeff George ... he was excellent. He really helped us get control of the game a little bit more. All he did was play simple and quick. He didn’t overcomplicate things.
“I thought William Nordenstrom was very good. Worked very hard. Was able to compete. We need big strong players as well to deal with set pieces, and William is one of those players who really helps us.”
Once the Bucs got the lead, they were able to hold off Kentucky by increasing their possession and controlling the ball more than they did in the first half, when they turned it over numerous times.
“We definitely are at a point where we are really cohesive as a team, but the first half reflected us being disjointed,” Calabrese said. “It’s not really typical of us to give the ball away, but we did. We’re typically a team that is really comfortable on the ball, possesses it well and moves it. Tonight that was not something that was really on evidence. But tonight was a good sign to see when you’re not playing well and you’re still able to find a way to win.”
The Bucs will return to action Monday night when they play host to 2-0 Winthrop, a team which beat Southern Methodist in last year’s NCAA tournament.