Ben Roberts vs Memphis 901 FC

Ben Roberts (No. 4) controls the ball as he fights off a Memphis 901 FC player. Roberts earned All-Conference First Team honors last season.

The University of Memphis men’s soccer team started their five-game spring schedule early, facing Memphis 901 FC last Saturday. 901 FC earned a 2-0 victory against the Tigers at the Bill J. Murphy Atheltic Complex.

901 FC is the newly formed United Soccer League (USL) club that will play its inaugural season starting March 9 at AutoZone Park. The United States Soccer Federation sanctions the USL as a  as a Division II league under Major League Soccer (MLS).

The highlight of the match was a goal from Raul Gonzalez, a former Tiger who played for the team from 2013-16, that came before the end of the first half.

“It was special, and honestly, I wasn’t thinking too much about it,” Gonzalez said. “I was focused on our team building and play. And luckily, I was able to get in a goal.”

Head coach Richard Mulrooney said he was proud his former player, even if he is competing against him on a professional squad.

“We’re happy to produce players who can go to the next level,” Mulrooney said. “To have him back at home, and just the idea of having the first (901 FC) game against us, is special and fitting. I’m happy for Raul, but it’s good for our program also.”

The Tigers held their own throughout the whole match after they got off to a sluggish start. The transition without seniors Mason Morise and David Zalzman, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers, began with Ben Roberts, an England native, captaining the team in the exhibition match. Roberts earned American Athletic Conference All-Conference First Team honors last season, and Mulrooney said he expects him to be the captain when next season comes.

“We were playing against a professional team, we made it competitive, and I thought we learned from our mistakes as the game went on,” Mulrooney said about his team’s performance.

Most of the action for the Tigers came in the second half as Atakelti Gebregzabher, Edgar Alaniz and Michael Thornton had chances to score inside the 18-yard box, but they weren’t able to capitalize. Gebebrezabher is a true freshman who saw his first minutes after missing his first season because of an injury.

As the game neared the end, Junior Sandoval netted the second goal of the match in a crazy sequence inside the box to seal the 2-0 victory in the exhibition. Head coach of 901 FC Tim Mulqueen said he was happy with his team’s performance, and he emphasized the appreciation of the fans after the final whistle blew.

“I’m really pleased with the effort and brand of soccer we played,” Mulqueen said. “(The fans) are the bloodline of our team. That’s why we acknowledged them at the end of the game cause we’re thankful that they (support us).”

Memphis 901 FC will head to Christian Brothers University on Saturday at noon for their next match. The Tigers have almost a month-long wait until they face 901 FC again in a private match  March 6. They then face Union University on March 16 at home, travel to the University of Central Arkansas on March 30 and finish the spring schedule April 6 at home against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. All home matches will be played at the Bill J. Murphy Athletic Complex.

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