Cukaj’s header in double overtime secures win against University of Alabama at Birmingham

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Cukaj’s header in double overtime secures win against University of Alabama at Birmingham

Marquette men's soccer celebrates after Manuel Cukaj's game-winning goal Friday night against UAB.

Marquette men's soccer celebrates after Manuel Cukaj's game-winning goal Friday night against UAB.

Photo by Jordan Johnson

Marquette men's soccer celebrates after Manuel Cukaj's game-winning goal Friday night against UAB.

Photo by Jordan Johnson

Photo by Jordan Johnson

Marquette men's soccer celebrates after Manuel Cukaj's game-winning goal Friday night against UAB.

Aimee Galaszewski

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Manuel Cukaj made quite the impact in his regular-season return from injury Friday night, sealing Marquette men’s soccer’s first win of the season on a game-winning header in the 107th minute against University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Senior midfielder Connor Alba delivered the assist on the game-winning goal after already scoring a goal in the 23rd minute off a penalty kick.

“Just before the assist, (sophomore defender) Josh Hancock had a header almost to win it, so we kind of had a feeling a goal was coming,” Alba said. “So I just tried to put the ball in the box and have someone get their head on it.”

Prior to Hancock’s shot, the Golden Eagles did not have a shot on goal for a 75-minute span. The last save UAB keeper Seth Torman had to make was in the 30th minute of the first half.

“In the second half, we fought and we tried to patch those cracks,” head coach Louis Bennett said. “We didn’t play our best soccer, but it was a two-way kind of game, which we don’t really like.”

The game didn’t always seem so close. At halftime, Marquette had a 1-0 lead and a 7-0 advantage in shots on goal, nearly triple UAB’s shots.

“In the first half, we were on the front foot a lot. We won the ball up higher on the pitch after we lost it,” Alba said. “So we were winning it in their defensive third and creating chances off that.”

There were plenty of opportunities to expand that lead beyond 1-0, but MU could not take advantage of them.

“I thought in the first 20, 25 minutes we were poor in front of goal,” Bennett said. “I thought we created enough chances in that to be one, two or three up. When we didn’t go up, they got momentum, and I think the last 10 minutes of the first half they started pressing.”

Three minutes into the second half, UAB midfielder Grayson DuPont put one past redshirt freshman goalkeeper Jackson Weyman to tie the game at 1-1.

Weyman finished his first career game with five saves.

“I’m really proud of our guys hanging in there and just grinding it out and doing those things,” Bennett said. “When you look back, we might not remember how much pain we were in during that game. We’ll only remember that we just beat a team 2-1.”

The Golden Eagles also received five yellow cards, which Alba attributed to a mix of smart and unnecessary fouls.

“We gave them three or four free kicks right at the top of the box and they could have scored on any of those, so we need to clean that up,” Alba said.

Senior defender Oliver Posarelli went down with an injury in the 38th minute. Bennett said he does not know when he will return, but Posarelli was walking on his own power after the game.

The team also did not play with senior co-captain Luka Prpa, who is also battling an injury. Bennett said Prpa is “on his way back” to being healthy.

Up next, the Golden Eagles will play University of California-Davis Sunday at noon at Valley Fields.

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