Men’s Soccer returns to the National Championship

By Meliyah Venerable / Delta Sports Editor 

A back-to-back National Championship… That was the goal for the Missouri Valley College Men’s Soccer team this season. The season started off rocky for the Vikings, but they continued to push through and make it back in the National Tournament.

The Vikings started the season ranked number one in the NAIA Men’s Soccer Coaches’ Top 25 Poll after winning the 2020 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship. After two losses against Park University (Mo.) and William Penn (Iowa), the team quickly dropped on the coaches’ poll. The Vikings dropped from number one to number ten. 

Many of the fans were shocked to see Valley have such a rough start to the season, coming off of a National Championship win. But the team did not seem to let it affect them much. 

When asked about the rough start to the season Head Coach Vladimir Simic said “So far most of the things are as planned. Our goal is to make it to the National Tournament.” 

After the two tough losses, the Vikings managed to win their next five games. Even defeating number eight Baker University, 5-1. Valley went on to win four of the next six games they played in the regular season. Then the post-season tournament began. 

The Heart of America Conference Post-season Tournament began November 5th. Valley opened the quarterfinal round facing Park University (Mo.) who they lost to in early September, 2-1 in overtime. The Vikings held the Pirates scoreless, while they scored 4 goals to advance them to the semifinal round of the tournament. 

The semifinals match was against Mount Mercy University (Iowa) where a goal by Ruben Jimenez assisted by Mike Moser in the first half gave the Vikings the victory. They moved on to the championship round to face Central Methodist University, the rival team. 

Since 2007 Missouri Valley has had a 10-7-4 record against CMU. The two teams met in the 2020 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship semifinal match. Central Methodist was ranked number one going into the match, and Valley was ranked number four. The Vikings scored double what the Eagles did, winning the game 4-2. The win sent them to the final championship round of the National Championship tournament. 

This year Missouri Valley fell to Central Methodist in the Final round of the Heart Post-season Tournament 1-NIL. But still clinched a spot in the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship.

“We had the goal to win the conference but we did not start as good as expected,” Mike Moser said, “After 2 losses in the beginning we turned it around and we finished second in the conference, which puts us in a good position for the playoffs.”

Valley was lucky enough to host the opening round bracket of the National tournament. This not only gave the men time to rest, not have to travel or be on an unfamiliar field, it gave them a chance to play in front of some of their biggest fans. Moval students got free admission to the games and were encouraged to attend.

The atmosphere changed a little in the student section this season. Many of the international students created a huge fan section where they held flags of the home countries for some of the players, made chants and songs, and even bought a drum to cheer on their friends as they played in the National Tournament. 

“There isn’t a better feeling than playing at home with your own people watching and all the fans that supported us at all times,” Jimenez said. 

“Nationals brings you more exciting feelings because you know you are playing against the best teams in the country and there are more people watching. As a player, you should treat every game with the same importance because focusing on the game is what will make you win.”

Now, it is time for Valley to get back to their ultimate goal, the final round of the National Tournament. In the opening round of the Marshall bracket, Valley faced Hastings College (Nebraska), who they defeated last year in the opening round of the National Tournament. But they stand 2-2 out of their four face-offs. The Vikings were able to top the Broncos 2-1. 

The final game in the opening round was Missouri Valley and Bethel University (Indiana). Starting goalkeeper Dusan Milosevic was not able to play in this game due to a concussion. This is only the second game Milosevic had to sit out in the past two seasons. But that did not stop Valley from having a 2-NIL shutout against the Pilots. This win sent Valley to the National Site in Decatur, Alabama. 

In the quarterfinal round, Keiser University was the opponent. The last time they faced off was in May of 2021 when the teams tied. Forward Timmo Dekker was the first to score for Missouri Valley. Valley scored in the first half of the game, while Keiser was held scoreless. Coming into the second half Keiser was able to round up three points and hold Valley scoreless, giving them the victory and ending the postseason for the Vikings men’s soccer team. 

“I think that this season could have been better in terms of winning some trophies, but overall, we are very satisfied about the team performance we made throughout the season,” Jimenez explained,  “Last year, after winning NAIA Championship Tournament, we were hoping on keeping the same shape and the same level of soccer that made us win that. We were missing some players but also more came and helped the team. However, it was not enough to accomplish everything we previously planned. As a senior, I am not going to be part of the team next year, but I am sure that Missouri Valley College will try to play at its maximum level to win everything again.”

The men finished their season with an overall record of 17-6 and a 9-3 record in the Heart Conference. Eight of those games were shutouts. Mike Moser led the team with 13 goals scored followed by Juri Schlingmann with 10 and Dekker with 6. Dusan Milosevic had 68 saves this season and seven of the eight shutouts Valley had. 

Although the season ended before the men hoped, they are satisfied with their performance this year and have high hopes to return to the National Tournament once again. 

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