By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- When someone looks back on the season the Susquehanna men's soccer team has had, they may point to Sept. 9 as the turning point.
Not that the Crusaders had struggled by any means -- the team was 4-0 at that point -- but a game against then-second ranked York proved to be a measure of the talent level of the Crusaders.
The Crusaders defeated 22nd-ranked William Paterson, 1-0, a day earlier in what would be a precursor to a large upset. Facing York, a goal in the 79th minute from senior midfielder John Arnold gave the underdogs from Selinsgrove a one-goal victory over the Spartans and helped to put the Crusaders onto the national soccer map.
"I think (the win over York) had been a long time coming," said Crusaders head coach Jim Findlay. "They've been nationally ranked now on and off for the last several years and we've been close with them. That was unbelievable."
With the shutouts of York and William Paterson, the Crusaders earned a spot in the National Soccer Coaches of America (NSCAA) Division III poll at 25th.
The Crusaders have built on their momentum from the York victory, standing at 11-2 overall and 3-1 in the Landmark Conference following a 5-1 win over Goucher on Saturday. The Crusaders are currently ranked fourth in the NSCAA Mid-Atlantic region after dropping out of the national rankings last week (SU was 15th before a loss to unbeaten Scranton).
"We're in a spot that we haven't really been before," said Findlay. "There's never been a time in Susquehanna history that we've been 11-2 and with a national ranking. It brings a different level of confidence in our play. We feel like every time we walk on the field, we have enough confidence to give ourselves a chance to win."
An important part of the Crusaders' success in shutting down powerful offenses has been senior goalkeeper Matt Salsman. Salsman, a Selinsgrove graduate, has started every game this season for Susquehanna, providing a steady presence in net while becoming a team leader.
Salsman ranks 14th nationally in Division III with a goals-against average of 0.44, along with six shutouts.
A first-year starter, Salsman has made the most of his opportunity to start and leads the conference in goals-against average with an average of 0.48 in conference play.
"If (our defense) makes a mistake, he's there to help clean it up," said Findlay. "He's been a pleasant surprise for us this season in the way he's played. He's really stepped up his game as a senior."
As a local product, Salsman said that the ability to have his family and friends watch him has been important.
"It means everything," said Salsman. "I couldn't do it without them. I love to see them at the games."
According to Findlay, Salsman's play has allowed the offense to attack quicker, enhancing the strength of sophomore midfielder David Trank, who leads the Crusaders with five goals.
"Athletically, he's one of our most talented kids," said Findlay "You just kind of get into a rhythm and you start to 'feel it.'"
Trank scored two goals in an overtime win over Franklin & Marshall on Oct. 10 and added a second-half goal on Saturday.
Midfielders John Arnold and Andrew Hayes have provided the Crusaders with experienced scoring options who know how to play in pressure situations Arnold, a senior, and Hayes, a junior, both scored on Saturday and are tied for second on the team with four goals each.