Today is the home-opener and the start of a new season for the Marist Men’s soccer team as they host Niagara with a 1:00 p.m. kickoff time at Tenney Stadium at Leonidoff Field.
This is their first of seven regular season games– three home, four away– and will eye a victory to try and win their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship since 2005.
Traditionally, college soccer seasons are played from August through November with approximately 15 regular season games played but given the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAAC and other divisions decided to either postpone their fall seasons or cancel them altogether.
So here we are in March, an unusual time for fall seasons to begin, with loads of promise as the Red Foxes are projected to finish third in the MAAC according to the preseason coaches’ poll. Only Quinnipiac and last year’s MAAC Champions Saint Peter’s are projected to finish above them this season.
Not only this, but two Marist players were named to the Preseason All-MAAC team: senior defender Huib Achterkamp and junior goalkeeper Sam Ilin. Marist came second in players named to the Preseason All-MAAC team behind Saint Peter’s with four.
If that was not promising enough, goalkeeper Sam Ilin is also coming off a stellar season where he started all 19 games with 71 saves and was recognized as the MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year.
Having Illin back for another season boosts one of the most important notions when it comes to any team’s success, continuity. Unfortunately, Coach Matt Viggiano’s team lost six seniors and their top goal-scorer– seven goals and seven assists– from a season ago in Allen Gavilanes.
However, they do have sophomore Steffan Copetti who showed he can be a goal contributor as he scored five goals and assisted six in his rookie season with the Red Foxes. Coach Viggiano will also have eight players who played in at least 10 games a season ago returning for another season.
Those players include midfielder Skylar Conway (19 appearances), defender Christian Curti (18 appearances), midfielder Antek Sienkiel (17 appearances) and others who will all play a critical role in the pursuit of the MAAC Championship.
Factor in these players and accolades with ten fresh faces joining the squad, including five freshmen and five transfers, and Coach Viggiano and his staff have a lot to work with this season.
Winning the MAAC will not be easy based off of the short seven-game schedule within the division. As mentioned at the beginning, they will open the season against a Niagara team that coaches have projected will end the season in ninth.
The Red Foxes will then play three consecutive road games starting with last season’s MAAC Champions Saints Peter’s, then head to Buffalo to play Canisius on March 25 and end their away run in Connecticut to face Fairfield University.
It should be noted that in the last three seasons, the Men’s team has gone 9-15-4 away from home, including a 2-6 away record last season. With a smaller margin for error this year, it is even more important that the team comes away with wins instead of draws or losses.
Following that three-game spell, Coach Viggiano’s team will be at home for two out of three of their final regular season games hosting Iona, traveling to Monmouth, then closing the regular season at home to face Rider University.
A season ago, the Red Foxes protected the den well with a 7-2 record, and with only three games at home, the team must win those games, especially given their inconsistent form on the road in recent years. However, fans are not permitted at Tenney Stadium games, which may make home-field advantage less of a factor this year.
It should also be noted that this season Marist will not face Quinnipiac, Manhattan, or Siena during the regular season due to the shortened schedule but assuming COVID-19 or weather inclements don’t postpone or cancel games, the Red Foxes will play these seven teams as originally scheduled.
While it may be a truncated season, expectations are still high for this team and expect them to play all 90 minutes with maximum effort each and every game, which will give them a chance to win every game as they are all critically important.
A 4-3 record may be enough to punch their ticket to the MAAC postseason, which is set to begin April 11. Three coaches and 27 players have seven games in one month to prove to the division that they deserve third place as the pre-season coaches’ poll suggests but will be hungry for more than that.
Edited by Dave Connelly & Bridget Reilly