Last weekend, Max Kral ’23 and the Swarthmore men’s soccer team traveled to Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia to play in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Swarthmore and #17 Roanoke played to a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes of regular time and twenty minutes of overtime on Saturday. The game had to be settled with penalty kicks. Kral saved two kicks as the Garnet won 4-2 on penalty kicks and punched their ticket to the next round of the tournament. The next day, Kral and the rest of the Garnet defense held #23 CNU to no goals after another 110 minutes of play. The game again went to penalty kick and Kral saved another two penalty kicks to help the Garnet advance. Kral and the Garnet will continue their NCAA run on Saturday, November 23 on Clothier Field at 1:00 p.m.
Neel Gupta: What is your prospective major, high school, and hometown?
Max Kral: I am a prospective major in Economics and went to the American School in Japan and Walter Johnson High School. The roster says I’m from D.C., but my hometown’s Tokyo, Japan.
NG: As a freshman playing in an NCAA game, did you feel any added pressure?
MK: Not really. Before the weekend, Coach pulled me aside and told me that it was just another game of soccer and that I just had to keep doing what I had been doing all season long. This, along with knowing what our team is capable of, really just made me excited to get the chance to take the field with the boys again.
NG: What was the Garnet defense able to do to stifle two nationally-ranked opponents’ offenses?
MK: At this point in the season, rankings don’t really mean anything, you’re either in or out of the tournament and our defense has been extremely solid all season long. Ben [Lau ’22] and Harry [Nevins ’22] in the middle and [Felix Laniyan ’20] and [Michael Gross ’21] on the sides have made my job in the back a lot easier and the two teams just couldn’t break us down. Even with Big Mike [Michael Gross] injured, Sean [Nolan ’23] stepped up this past weekend, playing lights out all 220 minutes in a position that he doesn’t usually play in.
NG: You saved 4/8 penalty kicks taken against you this weekend while Swarthmore’s takers converted 9/10 shots. What are you able to do that the other team’s goalies are not?
MK: Before each game, I have lucky charms, and that extra bit of luck definitely doesn’t hurt in a shootout. I think all the kickers I face are nervous, since no-one wants to have their penalty saved by a freshman. So, I just smile at all the takers to play some mind games and then do my best to save the shot. Our team has done an insane job converting on penalty kicks, which has done a great deal for our confidence. The one penalty we didn’t convert was a great save on Woojin [Shin ’21]. I feel like I’ve owed Woojin since my very first game here, when I conceded and he got a goal back right away to win it. I knew I’d have to make the next save for him and I think we’re finally even now.
NG: How have the last few weeks been for the team, from being eliminated from conference playoffs and believing the season over to getting an at-large NCAA bid to knocking out two nationally-ranked opponents?
The last few weeks have been crazy, to say the least. The loss to Haverford was devastating and a lot of us thought our season was over. It stung knowing that we weren’t able to leave it all on the pitch, so with this second life we’ve come out hungrier than ever ready to run through any team we face regardless of who they are.
NG: Was it difficult to play two back-to-back double OT games all the way in Virginia?
MK: Playing in goal, I probably have a different opinion from all my teammates running their asses off out on the pitch, but I really enjoyed it. This team is unbelievably strong as the match gets longer and it doesn’t get much better than beating a team on their own field and then sending another team back on a long bus ride home.
NG: Do you have any messages for the Swarthmore student body for Saturday’s game against No. 18 Connecticut College?
MK: The support throughout this whole season has been amazing and we all appreciate it a lot, so try to finish your work on Friday so you can come to our game and be a part of history.