HUNTINGTON — Marshall men’s soccer coach Chris Grassie told his team all preseason that every match will take on a different life now that the Thundering Herd has a national championship banner.
On Thursday morning, another team boasting of a recent championship banner brought that to life.
The University of Charleston, the reigning Division II national champion, defeated Marshall 4-3 in a rain-soaked exhibition match at Hoops Family Field in Huntington.
“It was exactly what we needed, to be honest,” Grassie said. “We just weren’t switched on and off and we weren’t focused enough. I think we took them a little bit lightly, to be honest. We could’ve played a little bit sharper, a little bit better.”
Gabriel Rodriguez finished with a hat trick for Charleston, which jumped to a large lead early before Marshall’s comeback bid fell short.
After trailing 4-1, Marshall pulled within a goal with 15:47 left when Joao Souza deposited a shot into the left corner of the net.
Marshall had its chances late, but the Charleston defense was able to avert danger in picking up the victory in what proved to be a spirited battle.
“There’s certainly things we need to do better here,” University of Charleston coach Dan Smee said. “We’re pleased with the result, pleased with the performances of all 22 guys, but it doesn’t really mean much in the long run because we’re trying to win another national championship. That’s a long way away from now.”
The Golden Eagles never trailed, using a mistake in net by Marshall’s Oliver Semmle to score the game’s first goal just 13 minutes in.
Semmle came outside the box to play a through-ball, but collided with an on-racing Charleston player and fell to the turf. UC was able to find the open goal to take the early advantage.
Following the goal, the rains turned to torrential downpours and things got sloppy over the next 30 minutes.
Charleston had a mistake at the back and Souza sent a strike off the right post and in to knot the match at 1, but the Golden Eagles answered with three goals in a span of five minutes as sloppy play cost the Herd dearly.
Confusion from Marshall players off a corner kick led to a goal in the 27th minute, and just one minute later Rodriguez converted a penalty kick after a takedown in the box.
At the 31:45 mark, Rodriguez finished off his hat trick with a shot to the near side past Semmle, which sent the Herd to a three-goal deficit — its largest since falling to Washington 4-1 in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
It was also a shell-shock as Marshall, which allowed only eight total goals in the 2020-21 season, allowed four in one half.
“Anytime we let down just a little bit, other teams are going to seize that, gain confidence and it’s a massive game for everybody,” Grassie said. “It’s a good time to learn that lesson in preseason, for sure.”
Marshall got back within 4-2 just three minutes before halftime when Ibrahima Diop deposited a shot into the net off a cross-field feed.
It helped establish momentum for the Herd, which was the aggressor for much of the second half and got within one on Souza’s second goal, but the physicality of Charleston stood the test against the Marshall rally.
Grassie used the match as a dose of perspective for his players, using the in-state ramifications of the result, coupled with last year’s loss to West Virginia, to stoke the fire.
“We won a national championship, but we haven’t beaten two of the best teams in the state, so that’s something we’ll be working on for sure, coming up,” Grassie said. “We’ve got to realize that it’s a great lesson.”
Conditions were rough for both teams from the start with rain starting in the first 10 minutes transitioning to heavy downpours that flooded side streets surrounding the complex during the match.
“In a monsoon, my watch actually asked me if I was swimming at one point, I swear,” Grassie said. “It was difficult circumstances, but it’s great. I mean, it’s the test that you need to have in preseason.”
Marshall finished the exhibition portion of its schedule without a win, finishing 0-1-2 in its three matches against three nationally ranked teams.
Grassie noted a loss to UNC-Asheville in 2019 preseason prior to an NCAA run and a 2020 regular-season opener in which the Herd tied Ohio Valley University as reference points.
“As long as you learn, especially in preseason, we’ll be all right,” Grassie said. “The guys will take this as a good lesson. Charleston is very well coached, very good players. They are a good team and they were up for it. It wasn’t like they played bad soccer. They played well, so credit to them.”
The road gets no easier for the Herd, whose regular season starts with three consecutive ranked opponents, starting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 26 at No. 21 James Madison.