The Marist men’s soccer team still hasn’t played a game since their heartbreaking MAAC Semifinal loss on November 14, 2019
Head coach Matt Viggiano looked to the ceiling and let out a contemplative “whew” after realizing it has been 484 days (and counting) since his team last took the field for a meaningful soccer game. That final game was a heartbreaking loss to Saint Peter’s in the semifinal of the MAAC Tournament, with the Peacocks scoring two goals in the last ten minutes to defeat the Red Foxes 3-2. No one could have guessed that the team wouldn’t take the field for nearly a year and a half after the loss, but here we are.
The time away from the game gave the team a refreshed outlook on this season. They were more invested than ever in getting back on the field and winning soccer games. “I don’t have to do too much because these guys want to play,” said Viggiano.
The team stayed engaged throughout the time off. “There’s a number of players I feel have gotten better not being around us,” said Viggiano, “And that’s solely to their credit and their work ethic.”
Huib Achterkamp, a senior captain center back for Marist, believes the pandemic gave the team a new perspective on playing collegiate soccer. “We’re more appreciative of what we have right now,” he said, “It made people realize that the things you have are not certain.”
Viggiano, however, had his concerns about the unique season after such a long break. “As a coach, I worry about the physical limitations,” he said, “I don’t think most of our guys can go 90 [minutes].”
While stamina might have been an issue, Viggiano had no worries about the skill level of his team. “If we don’t make the top eight something went drastically wrong,” he said, “We know we’re good enough to win the conference, so the question is are we going to do what it takes to win.” The team was projected to finish third in the MAAC in the preseason poll, behind only Quinnipiac and Saint Peter’s.
Both Achterkamp and sophomore goalkeeper Samuel Ilin were named to the Preseason All-MAAC team. They also added defender Justin Scharf from Lehigh, who started all 20 games for the Mountain Hawks as a sophomore. He helped lead them to a Patriot League title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019. The back line was looking promising heading into the season.
The team’s return to practice on March 1st was a much-needed taste of pre-pandemic life for both the coaches and players, “The two hours a day they get to spend together out on the field where it’s normal is rewarding and fulfilling to them,” said Viggiano.
Those two hours were a reprieve from the new reality of COVID that consumes their daily lives. It was a time for everyone involved to focus on improving their craft and work toward a common goal.
Viggiano was preparing for COVID to have an impact on their season. “I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Viggiano. Sadly, it had the ultimate impact on their season.
That shoe dropped on Wednesday, March 17th. Marist announced that all Division 1 sports would be put on hold due to a surge in cases on campus. On April 8, the team decided to cancel their season after the uphill battle against COVID on campus proved too devastating to their schedule.
Prior to the announcement, the team had already postponed six of their seven games. In a statement, Viggiano had this to say about his players: “They are what we want our student-athletes to be. My heart goes out to them. I wish they could have had a better outcome, but know we are a proud family and together we will get through this.”
Prior to the cancelation, Viggiano was very optimistic about their chances of winning the program’s first MAAC title since 2005. They’ve repeatedly come up short in recent years, but he was hopeful this would be a breakthrough season. “I expect to be there in the end,” said Viggiano.
In his tenure at Marist, Viggiano has led the program to three MAAC Semifinal appearances, but he has yet to capture that elusive MAAC Championship. “We’ve been knocking on the door, but sometimes you need to kick it in,” he said.
Although it’s many months away, Viggiano is already preparing for next season. “Moving forward our focus has to be fulfilling our potential and achieving our goal of a MAAC Championship. I have no doubt that the work has already begun,” Viggiano said in a statement. The Marist Men’s Soccer team will have to wait many more days until they take the field again.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Nicholas Stanziale
Photo Credit: Marist College Athletics