(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Marvin Putu capped a stellar second-half performance with the game-winning goal in the 84th minute Saturday night at Herb Klindt Field, as the senior lifted the Montana State University Billings men’s soccer team to a 2-1 exhibition victory over host Rocky Mountain College.
With the teams seemingly headed for a 1-1, season-opening draw, Putu took advantage of a heavy touch by an RMC defender inside the six-yard box and stealthily tipped the winning goal into the back of the net.
“I think all of us did really well,” Putu said. “It wasn’t easy to play against this team, because it’s a derby and it’s our first game of preseason, but I think it was very important to win today. It is going to give us a lot of confidence, and we are looking forward to continuing to improve as a team.”
Making his MSUB debut, goalkeeper Connor Trapp had perhaps the most important moment of the match, as he dove to deny a free-kick strike by Bears captain Milo Downey to keep MSUB in front as time expired in the match. Though the victory was little more than a morale boost – the Yellowjackets’ record remains 0-0 after the exhibition affair – positive moments were abound under the lights on Saturday. “We have just had five days of practice and we brought in 12 new players, so we knew that not everything was going to be perfect,” MSUB head coach Thomas Chameraud said after the win. “I like the way we played, and I like the way the guys reacted after we conceded that penalty kick. They didn’t panic, they kept to the game plan trying to play out of the back and finding the gaps in the midfield. We were rewarded with two good goals for us in that second half.”
Senior midfielder Brad Lowes equalized the score at 1-1, less than a minute after the Bears went ahead on a Downey penalty kick early in the second half. Working past a defender with his back to the net, Lowes quickly turned and struck the ball with his left foot before watching it sail over the head of RMC goalkeeper Ryan Cornwall.
The Bears had their shot stopper to thank for being level at halftime, as it took a pair of stellar saves in the opening 45 minutes to prevent MSUB from pulling ahead. MSUB’s best scoring chance in the opening half came in the closing minutes, when Guillermo Gonzalez drilled a well-weighted through ball from the defensive third over the RMC back line. Halil Yilmaz unleashed a dipping, left-footed volley, and it took a leaping tip-save from Cornwall to keep the ball out of the net.
The Yellowjackets had three ensuing corner kicks to close out the half, one of which resulted in a ball that rattled off the right goal post amid a crowded box.
Putu electrified the Yellowjacket lineup from the moment he stepped onto the pitch midway through the second half, constantly finding himself on the ball and threading the needle seamlessly from the defensive third to the forward portion of the pitch. “I feel really good, and I think it is due to Tom Ebel’s workouts and the rehab he has helped me with,” Putu said, citing the work of the Yellowjackets’ athletic trainer who was instrumental in his return from a major knee injury in 2018. “Finally I can say that I am back.”
“Marvin was good, and he made the most out of his time tonight,” Chameraud said. “He definitely showed his technical abilities, and he finally found the back of the net today so I am very happy for him.”
The Yellowjackets won despite being out-shot 8-7, while Georgios Theodoulidis and Trapp combined to make four saves with each playing 45 minutes in goal. Mathias Kjølner was a difference maker during his time on the pitch in the opening half, and led the team with a pair of shots on target including one that glanced off the post.
Senior Luca Battistotti captained the team to victory in his role as center back, and the ‘Jackets kept constant pressure throughout the match with 11 corner kicks while conceding just two.
“I think we created most of the chances during the game – their keeper made two good saves in the first half, and it was just a question of time for us to find the back of the net,” Chameraud said. “I am very happy overall with the performance of the team. There is still a lot of work to do, but it was a good first game and we are all happy to be back on the field.”
The Yellowjackets host the University of Providence on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in their next preseason exhibition contest.
Liberty Palmer nodded home her first collegiate goal in the 44th minute in a 1-0 women’s soccer win over Rocky.
Palmer’s header goal came amid a flurry of corner kicks in the waning minutes of the first half, with Leila Clark persistently peppering dangerous crosses into the box until her fourth strike connected with her fellow freshman.
“It was exhilarating,” Palmer said after her first collegiate match. “The feeling of having my teammates support me after the goal was unlike any other. I saw the ball was going in towards the PK spot, so I backed up a little bit, tried to confuse the defender, made my run, and got up as high as I could to get my head on the ball.”
Center backs Vendela Andersson and Hailee Gertsch highlighted a strong performance by the back line, and goalkeeper Tuva Sallvin made a pair of saves while using her 6-foot-3 height advantage to handle several long crosses on corner kicks. in her MSUB debut to complete the win. Both teams’ official record remains at 0-0 after Saturday’s exhibition action.
“It was a great atmosphere tonight, and it was a great opportunity for our team to play in this kind of environment,” MSUB head coach Stephen Cavallo commented on the bleachers packed with fans. “We had a nervy start, but I thought we did a really good job of taking control of the game. We know we can play better, but our first game is not meant to be our best game of the season.”
The Bears kept the Yellowjackets’ center backs busy early on, with Gertsch and Andersson holding strong under a barrage of pressure in the opening 10 minutes of the match.
The Yellowjackets’ first promising chance came in the 18th minute, when Gertsch pressed forward with the ball into the attacking third. Lexie Bloyder then sent a dangerous cross towards the middle of the box, but freshman Maddie Smith was tightly marked as her defender prevented what would have been a shot from point-blank range.
MSUB newcomer Sydney Torres landed the first shot on frame of the match, curling a right-footed attempt towards the near post that was handled by RMC goalkeeper Atlanta Kisbaugh in the 24th minute. Moments later, Haylee Gunter placed the ball on Torres’ foot after beating a pair of defenders, and watched as Kisbaugh this time had to make a sliding stop on another attempt on frame.
The Yellowjackets won their first corner kick of the evening with four minutes to go before halftime, and the Bears breathed a sigh of relief as a dangerous cross from Clark rattled around the box before rolling wide for a goal kick. After Clark blasted a shot towards the near post that was narrowly knocked away by Kisbaugh, she served up what proved to be the game-winning assist. “They are both really skilled, and we have a really good team right now,” Cavallo commented on Clark and Palmer connecting on the winning goal. “I am happy to see freshmen come in right away and contribute. The whole team did well to combine and get a shutout for us.”
Clark nearly doubled MSUB’s tally four minutes into the second half, when her right-footed shot from 25 yards out carried just over the crossbar. Andersson was positioned perfectly to deal with a push by the Bears late in the second half, as she knocked away a cross from Brynn Klinefelter that was headed towards an open Morgan Maack on the far post.
It proved to be the final dangerous threat created by the Bears, as the ‘Jackets held tough through the final whistle to make Palmer’s goal stand as the winner. “Having my teammates jump up on me and playing in front of the fans, it was unlike any other,” said Palmer. “This was a great start for us, and it’s just the beginning.”
The Yellowjackets host the University of Providence in another exhibition match on Wednesday afternoon at Yellowjacket Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Live coverage for the opening home match of the season will be available online here. [youtube.com]