Head coach Matt Viggiano, not-too-successfully holding back tears, locks in an emphatic embrace with his captain, senior Mike Lorello.
The bench is a wreck. Some players in shock, some too distraught to move, others are so furious they’ve torn their jerseys off and whipped them into the wind. If only the wind could wipe away what had just transpired.
This was the scene after Marist men’s soccer was toppled 3-2 by the regular season champions, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, in the MAAC Semifinals. It was a much different scene just two hours prior.
Charging out of the tent that they called a locker room for the day, Marist players were bringing bundles of excitement and positive energy onto the field. The bench, as the match began, was a power supply of sorts, keeping their teammates on their toes and amped up.
It wasn’t until Viggiano urged his team to press higher and higher up the field that they were in the game. And after that, it took only minutes to level the match at one.
Spirits lifted and you could feel the exuberance emanating from the Red Foxes’ dugout. Viggiano stated multiple times this season that this year is different. Before play even began in 2019 he was more confident than ever about his teams’ chances. “This is as excited as I’ve been, probably, in my 13 years here,” he said in August.
The second half was played, mostly, in Marist men’s soccer style. They persistently pressured and sped forward when they won the ball. Freshman Stefan Copetti finagled a ball around a defender and past the Saint Peter’s goalkeeper to take the lead. Marist rightfully erupted after the goal, sensing the magnitude of the impending result.
But there were 38 minutes left to play.
Could anyone have seen Saint Peter’s becoming the team they did in 2019? Probably not many. Last year they held onto the final playoff seed by just a point and posted a losing record overall.
Something changed in 2019 that no one could have predicted. Saint Peter’s opened the campaign with a 3-5 record and were 0-1 in conference play after losing to Quinnipiac. Since October 2, however, the Peacocks have not managed to lose a game. Including today’s comeback triumph over Marist, the streak is now 10 straight victories. Out of those 10 consecutive wins, just two of them were by multiple goals and five of them were clinched in overtime.
This is not a powerhouse program Marist fell to this afternoon. They are anything but dominant.
The game of soccer is cruel, of course. The better team doesn’t always win. It could make one question the entire definition of the word “better.” It doesn’t matter now.
Saint Peter’s scored two quick goals in the final 10 minutes to flip the result and take a 3-2 lead. A late lead they would not relinquish. Again.
As the final whistle sounded in Jersey City, a sigh was heard in recognition that the 2019 Saint Peter’s Peacocks always find a way to get it done. It was a sigh that carried with it all the narrow victories and clutch goals they’ve been able to muster over the past month and a half.
Championship teams always find a way to win in the end, regardless if they’re the better team or not. Saint Peter’s is now heading to the MAAC Championship, and they’ve made a living off of doing those exact things.
Two years in a row the Red Foxes have come within touching distance of that elusive Championship game. The agony and pain of coming up short again was evident across the field as players dropped to their knees. They gave everything they had, and none more than Viggiano. His 13th season has finished, in many ways, how all the rest of them have – without a conference title.
But something larger than that is clear. Viggiano is like a father to his players. After the game was over he consoled his men, backed them up against the injustices he perceived from the officiating crew, and corralled the lot of them back into their tent.
This was the last chance for the senior class, a class consisting of Lorello, Samad Bounthong, Marcus Ginman, Alex Cancilla, Ryan Sinnott, Svyatoslav Kozak, and Cameron Harr. Viggiano spoke about each of these players one by one.
“Another great human being. That’s really what ties the class. They’re just, they’re guys that I’d be proud to call sons,” Viggiano said, tears winning the fight to escape his eyes. “That’s how I feel about it.”
He’s always proud. No matter how disappointed, angry, or any other multitude of emotions, he always has their back. That’s why, when looking towards 2020, Viggiano still has his eyes on the prize.
“As far as seeing out results, I think we were resilient. You can tell by the way we came back. But I think we could just be a little more consistent, and that’s part of youth,” he said in reflection. The Red Foxes started three freshmen in the lineup today, players that have been starting a majority, if not all, of the season. Meanwhile, Viggiano pointed out, Saint Peter’s has 24 year old juniors starting games. Men who are bigger and more experienced than the 18 and 19 year olds Marist recruits.
In 2016, this senior class’ freshman year, the team was full of young talent that needed experience and growth. Players like Lorello, Bounthong, and Ginman. As their time is now up, these past two seasons are the culmination of their hard work and development.
Simultaneously, it’s been the most successful two-year period in Viggiano’s 13-year tenure.
Whatever is in store for the new young talent Marist holds in the palm of their hands, they have a tremendous launchpad built for them. And greater expectations each year.
Edited by Bridget Reilly