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After a miss-clearance by Niagara’s Emmanuel Obiefuna just past his own penalty box, Jeorgio Kocevski picked up the loose ball and sent it down the line to Giona Leibold. Leibold, with the help of a give-and-go sequence with Colin Biros, was sent down the left wing.
Leibold took a touch inward and sent a low cross into the six-yard box. The ball beat a Purple Eagles defender before finding the feet of an onrushing Deandre Kerr, who slotted home an inside-of-the-foot volley for Syracuse’s opener 58 minutes into the game.
Syracuse (2-2-0) took 23 total shots and 14 shots on goal in its 2-0 win against Niagara (1-3-0) on Monday. The Orange dominated the Purple Eagles through their direct play into the final third en route to their final game before Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“If we’re not creating chances in front of goal, then our forwards and coaches are probably worried,” head coach Ian McIntyre said. “So we created a lot of chances.”
Syracuse’s control was apparent right from the opening kickoff, and Niagara was going to let the Orange do just that.
Off the opening whistle, the Purple Eagles immediately drove the ball into the Orange backline. Max Kent who received the ball, along with the rest of the Syracuse field players, dropped off expecting to play around Niagara pressure.
Instead, the Purple Eagles stayed back and compact, allowing SU to play as it had hoped. But out of nowhere, Kent looked left and drove a ball in behind Niagara’s Obiefuna. Leibold ran onto it and played a driven ball on the ground too far for an SU player.
Less than a minute later, Syracuse’s Olu Oyegunle sent a through ball into the left side of the penalty box for Kerr, who was quickly pressured, giving SU an early corner kick. Biros sent in the ensuing inswinger and found the head of a rising Kent, who sent the ball inches over the crossbar.
Niagara didn’t connect a single pass for the following two minutes, and through the game’s first five minutes, Syracuse had already taken three shots and accumulated two corners.
That five-minute span revealed how the game’s next 85 would pan out.
In the 31st minute, Syracuse thought it scored its opening goal. Once again, the Orange built up their offense through their backline. Christian Curti played into the midfield for Kocevski, who took the ball forward. He played a through ball for Leibold, relying on Leibold’s speed to chase the ball down before sailing out on the left touchline.
Leibold’s low-driven cross found Noah Singelmann’s left foot, which redirected it on net first-time, forcing Nick Burke to make a diving save, pushing the ball to his left. The loose rebound was perfectly set up for Kerr to drill the ball into the roof of the goal — but he was called offside.
Even with his goal being called back, Kerr still managed six total shots in the game’s opening half, with four of them going on net, more total shots than he had previously recorded in his 15 prior games with the Orange.
“The players behind me did a great job getting me in behind,” Kerr said. “I could’ve had two, three goals today. That’s just the way the game goes.”
After Singelmann stopped Niagara’s possession in its own half, he quickly sent the ball out wide to the feet of Luke Biasi. Biasi then simply stuck his foot out, exposing the inside of his right foot to redirect the ball down the right touchline for Kerr.
Already in behind his defender, Kerr, on his favored left foot, was in all alone on Burke. Kerr opened up his body and angled a curling shot towards the far post, but an outstretched arm from Burke was enough to push the ball wide for a corner.
Playing through Kerr allowed Syracuse to not just generate as many shots as it did, but also control possession when deep in the opposition’s half. For the first time this season, the Orange looked at ease in the final third, playing with a sense of relaxation and patience and building up to the right moment for a shot on goal.
Syracuse led Monday’s total possession count 58% to Niagara’s 42, with over 20% possession in the final third in each half — with 28% in the second half. That came with a plethora of crosses from the Orange’s wingbacks, many of which connected with their intended target, but Burke’s seven saves and Josh Savoni’s five for the Purple Eagles bailed Niagara out of what could’ve been a landslide defeat.
“This game last year, we probably draw this one 1-1,” McIntyre said. “The difference this night was we gave them nothing.”
Into the second half, Syracuse was able to pressure a fatigued Purple Eagles unit the way it wanted to. The Orange were able to freely send in a direct ball forward as they did right off the game’s opening kick to its final seconds.
Kerr once again found the ball in open space and cut in between each defender in his way. His seventh shot on goal was saved, and the rebound found Curt Calov right in the goal box for him to easily chip the ball over a diving Burke with 32 seconds remaining — a confidence booster for Syracuse’s upcoming ACC test against conference powerhouse Virginia.
“The way that our guys approached, I’m proud of them,” McIntyre said. “I thought the energy, just the execution was good. We’ve got some smiles on our faces because some of our guys could have had goals tonight. The other side of that is, we got this win and a clean sheet.”
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