Bears blank North Florida in ASUN opener

CONWAY — The Central Arkansas men’s soccer team got off to the start they wanted in ASUN play, opening the conference schedule with a gritty 2-0 win over North Florida on Saturday, Sept. 10. Playing with 10 men for the bulk of the second half, the Bears gutted out a win over a particularly scrappy Ospreys team.

Saturday’s victory marks the second-straight for Central Arkansas, with both wins coming at home. It improves the Bears to 2-2-1 on the year, giving the guys a great chance to regroup after two wins at home. Central Arkansas now looks forward to three-straight on the road.

The opening minutes of the game spelled out how physical the game was going to be, as seven fouls and a pair of yellow cards came in the first 15 minutes. With neither side backing down, both teams had good looks at goals early on. Central Arkansas would break through for the first goal of the game in the 15th minute, as Bradyn Knutson gave a pass to Sebastian Andreassen, who lofted a shot over the Osprey keeper to make it an early 1-0 lead.

With both sides weathering the first chunk of the game, the match settled into a rhythm, albeit a back-and-forth slugfest of a rhythm. Tackles continued to be hard, bodies continued to hit the grass, and Central Arkansas continued to keep the Ospreys just enough out of their comfort zone to prevent them from getting any real offense developed. By the end of the first half, there would be more cautions than goals, more fouls than shots, but it was the Bears who took a 1-0 lead into the break.

Fifteen minutes into the second half, Richard-Miguel Lapointe-Guevara drew his second caution, earning himself a red card and putting the Bears down to 10 players. Losing Guevara on the back line would ordinarily be a critical loss, with the skill and pace he plays with from his defensive position creating mismatches on the offensive side of the ball as well. For a few tense minutes, North Florida seized momentum as the Bears shifted formations to account for the loss, but everything evened out when an Osprey was sent off via a red card, putting both teams at 10 players aside.

Adjusting to the added spacing and formations, North Florida seemed poised to level the score, maintaining possession in its offensive third for an extended period of time. But bend as it would, the Central Arkansas defense and goalkeeper Zach Schawl refused to break, maintaining the shutout in hopes that the Bears could react on the counter attack.

Finally breaking out and stretching the field up into the offensive third, the Bears earned a penalty in the 74th minute, which was calmly put home by Mathias Bendiksen. With a 2-0 lead deep into the game, Central Arkansas wasn’t content resting on its laurels, pressing further still to try and really put the game out of reach. And though they threatened, the 2-0 lead held through the final whistle.

Central Arkansas sets off for three-straight matches on the road in the coming weeks, starting on Saturday with a road trip to Louisville, Ky., for another ASUN match against Bellarmine. Kickoff against the Knights is set for 6 p.m.