With a 1-0 win over defending champions Monmouth University, Marist advances to the MAAC final for a chance to win their first championship since 2005. It was a late winner from a long-range goal by junior defender Bernardo Gracindo that sent Marist to the final.
Their victory comes off a week full of accomplishments for the Marist team. Graduate defender Huib Achterkamp won MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, senior Sam Ilin won Goalkeeper of the year, and head coach Matt Viggiano claimed MAAC Coach of the Year.
Monmouth nearly got on the board before the fans could reach their seats. With the game at a high tempo already, the visitors’ Griffin Thomas fired a long shot that clipped the post before going out.
Marist had a chance of their own when quarter-final man of the match graduate forward/midfielder Kyle Galloway played a ball across goal that nearly found freshman striker Richard Morel, but he couldn’t get a foot on it before crashing into the goalpost.
With the game slowing down 25 minutes into the game, the teams could not be separated statistically, with both sides having three shots each and none on target.
It took 40 minutes for the first shot on target of the match. Marist junior midfielder Antek Sienkiel fired a low shot at a tough angle, which didn’t trouble the goalkeeper.
Despite a promising start to the match, both teams struggled to maintain possession and create a consistent flow of chances. Marist outshot Monmouth eight to four, with Sienkel’s effort being the only one on target. Marist had the majority of the possession 56-44 at half.
The Red Foxes came inches away from the breakthrough after a goal line scramble following a corner kick, but a Monmouth defender was on hand to clear the danger.
By minute 60 of the match, it was clear the Red Fox offense wasn’t clicking on the night. Marist’s leader in goals, points, and shots, Stefan Copetti had seemed ineffective on the night and seemingly looked injured. Coach Viggiano suggested it was just a cramp and nothing to put his appearance in the final in danger. “He’s a cramper, it’s just a little bit of fatigue,” he said.
With 10 minutes to go, Marist found the offensive inspiration that they needed. Gracindo pushed up from his left-back spot and unleashed a curling effort into the top-right corner that sent Tenney Stadium into raptures. His goal was assisted by Galloway, his second assist in back-to-back games.
With Monmouth knocking on the door, Achterkamp cleared the ball off the foot of an attacker at the last moment before he could poke home the equalizer, and Marist still had the lead.
The last few minutes of the match saw Monmouth play long-ball after long-ball in hopes of an equalizer, but the defense was able to see out the danger and hold onto the 1-0 lead to advance to the MAAC final.
“They’re a good team and the defending champs, but you gotta beat the champ if you want to be the champs,” Viggiano said. “I’m honestly so happy for these guys, but we ain’t done yet. If we show up and play our game we’ll be hoisting some silverware.”
Goalscorer Gracindo said, “It’s my first year here at Marist and the moment felt amazing. You guys saw the celebration–just the passion from it. I’ve been waiting for my moment all year and it finally came.”
Coach Viggiano gave his last comment before Sunday’s final, where he will be competing for his first MAAC Championship. “They know I’ve said this three or four times, you’re only nervous when you’re not prepared. They’re gonna have butterflies but it’s excitement, that’s the difference between being nervous and being prepared. We’ve prepared all year for this, we’ll be ready to go.”
Marist is set to play Rider University in the MAAC Championship on Sunday, November 14 at 11 a.m. on Tenney Stadium turf.
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Bridget Reilly