The result was one Marist men’s soccer had dreamt of, but the game’s ending was certainly not.
For Manhattan College, this was their third trip to the Quarterfinals in the past five years, but the Red Foxes were on a quest for their second playoff victory since 2011.
Seemingly sensing the gravity of the occasion and what was about to happen this Sunday night, fans of Marist and Manhattan alike shuffled into the seats of Tenney Stadium. Though bundled up and shivering, those fans would forget about the cold air that engulfed them by the time the final whistle sounded.
The 2-1 win for Marist, meaning they advance to play Saint Peter’s on Thursday, would not be all the excitement needed to warm up the crowd.
Marist came off the blocks with the hunger and ferocity that head coach Matt Viggiano consistently preaches. They also weren’t shy to try their luck, launching six shots in a dominating first 20 minutes.
The mission was clear: fast, powerful, and decisive for the Red Foxes. Quick restarts, high-pressure, and an urgency they have wanted to play with all season categorized each of the 90 minutes. Leave it to a single-elimination matchup against a close rival to bring out the best in a team.
That was Viggiano’s game plan, unwavering from the identity he has established thus far, and the one he plans on carrying forward. He cited his seniors, Mike Lorello and Samad Bounthong as leaders on the field tonight.
“I think they know that unfortunately this is going to end soon enough, and I don’t think they want to go home yet and I don’t either,” he said.
Junior Allen Gavilanes finally broke the deadlock to validate the tremendous pressure Marist had generated all game. He danced through the middle of the defense, reversed course, and slotted home a highlight-reel finish in the 57th minute.
Just three minutes later, Gavilanes provided the spark for Marist’s insurance goal.
The winger’s assist to junior Justin Jaime gave him sole possession of first place in career assists since becoming a Division I program in 1982. The only Marist player with more assists than Gavilanes is Zenone Naitza, who tallied 39 from 1975-1978 while the program was in Division II.
Objectively, this game was one of Gavilanes’ best in a Marist uniform. Due, in part, to the magnitude and pressure of the situation, and aided by the sheer brilliance Marist’s #10 put on display. Even without the ball he attracted attention and defenders, and when he did have it he made those defenders miss. Badly.
“He was dynamite,” said Viggiano. “He’s a special player and you hope your special players play big when it means the most and he definitely did tonight.”
It was one of those times when Gavilanes did have the ball that will be most remembered by those in attendance. As the final seconds of Manhattan’s season ticked away, Gavilanes found space to exploit up the field. Likely a combination of anger, sadness, and the knowledge that Gavilanes would beat him on the dribble, Jaspers senior Callum Carsley levelled him with a hockey-esque body check.
With Gavilanes lying nearly limp on the turf, both teams’ benches cleared, bodies were thrown, and punches were thrown.
Carsley’s final act as a college soccer player would be that hit, as the referee dealt him a red card after all the chaos was cleared. Heading to the locker rooms early with him: two more Manhattan players, as well as Marist’s game winning goal scorer, Justin Jaime.
“We’ve got to learn to walk away and not be a tough guy in that situation… they got nothing, 35 seconds left, they’re losing, they know they got nothing to play for. You know, we kind of took the bait there,” Viggiano said.
What’s most worrying about the Red Foxes as they look ahead to Thursday is the absence of Jaime. According to NCAA rule 12.8, Jaime will be suspended two games for fighting, therefore missing the championship game as well, should Marist advance past the Peacocks. There is a further possibility that Jaime could be suspended three total games, carrying over to the 2020 season. That extra game being tacked on as a result of his prior red card issued on October 23.
It was that October 23rd loss to Saint Peter’s that Viggiano knew which matchup he wanted in the playoffs. “If we do our job, we’ll see them again. And we’ll let the ball going in the net decide who’s the better team,” he said after that game, feeling hard done by the officiating.
“I had a feeling we were gonna see them again,” Viggiano said tonight. “So we’re gonna go down there and take our shot.”
November means it’s sink or swim, and the Red Foxes have freestyled through the first checkpoint in the race for the MAAC title.
Edited by Bridget Reilly