On Sunday, November 14th at Tenney Stadium, Marist was crowned MAAC champions for the first time since 2005. After a 2-2 tie, it went all the way to penalty kicks where Sam Ilin was the hero by saving Rider’s fourth penalty before senior midfielder Jacob Schulman scored the winning penalty.
It was the second-ever MAAC final to go all the way to penalties with the first being in 2013 when Quinnipiac beat Monmouth, and Marist had been knocked out of the 2018 playoffs to Quinnipiac. This time Marist scored all of their penalties, and they won 5-3.
The first 15 minutes saw no shots for either team, with the two finalists playing long balls that were dealt with by each team’s defensive line.
Senior captain Justin Scharf opened the scoring when he cut in from the right wing and placed a curling effort into the bottom corner. It was the defender’s first goal for Marist and an impressive one at that with only a .04 xG grade on the shot.
Just five minutes later graduate forward Kyle Galloway put Marist up 2-0 directly from a free-kick. Galloway impressed in Marist’s playoff run, contributing three goals and two assists in the playoffs.
In the 27th minute, Rider had pulled one back. Graduate student defender Tyrrell Moore weaved through Marist’s backline and placed his shot into the corner. Prior to the goal, Marist was enjoying comfortable spells of possession, but Rider’s opening goal gave them the momentum.
In the 36th minute, Rider nearly had their equalizer on a set-piece of their own. Sophomore midfielder Adel Al-Masude fired his free kick directly against the bar, and Marist was able to clear the danger before Rider could take another shot.
At halftime, Marist had six shots with four on target, while Rider had five shots and one on target. Marist also led in possession 55-45. Notably, 49 percent of their possession was in their half in between the halfway marker and their own box.
Stunningly, three minutes into the second half, Rider had their equalizer. Marist’s senior goalkeeper Sam Ilin could only watch in shock as freshman defender Andre Cutler-DeJesus’s failed clearance looped over the goalkeeper’s head in their own goal, tying it up 2-2.
After 20 minutes Marist had been enjoying the better chances of the second half. Rider had failed to have a shot of their own and the hosts were becoming more aggressive with how many players they had forward.
Marist was able to keep Rider without a shot thanks to a last-ditch effort from Scharf, stopping Rider’s forward, who got through the defense and was about to pull the trigger.
Rider’s goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois was forced to make his best save with seven minutes to go, a deflected shot nearly found the bottom corner, but he was able to stretch out and push it out for a corner.
Rider had the last chance of regulation, Moore ran through the Marist defense, and his pass was miscontrolled and rolled out slowly for a goal kick, and the MAAC championship would be decided by a golden goal.
Graduate defender Huib Achterkamp was inches away from winning Marist the MAAC when his close-range finish hit the bar, and the first period of overtime was over.
Marist’s top scorer Stefan Copetti nearly sealed the win for Marist just a minute into the second overtime, the junior midfielder was sent through on goal but his one-on-one opportunity was denied by the legs of the goalkeeper. Copetti has been without a goal in Marist’s three playoff games, and even in changing his position to striker today, he still couldn’t get firing.
To the shock of the home support, Marist still had not claimed the victory and had their best chance of the match just a minute after Copetti’s shot. The striker set up Galloway for a point-blank header, but he nodded his effort too close to the goalkeeper and Gatinois was able to parry it away to keep Rider in the game.
After 110 minutes of action, Marist and Rider couldn’t be separated and the match went to penalty kicks.
Marist ended up outshooting Rider 17-7, with nine on target for Marist and just one for Rider.
Marist would step up first and it would be their regular penalty taker Achterkamp to take the first one, and he rolled his penalty to the left side as the keeper went the opposite way.
Rider would answer back with a similar penalty to make it 1-1.
Henrique Cruz was up next for Marist, and he scored his penalty, placing it in the same place Achterkamp did previously.
Rider would then tie it up with a slow-rolling shot placed into the same bottom-left corner.
Bernardo Gracindo, the semi-final goalscorer, made it 3-2 to Marist with a powerful shot in the left side.
Rider would once again equalize and make it 3-3.
Galloway had no doubts about where his penalty was going, he blasted his shot into the top left corner and it was now 4-3 Marist.
Sam Ilin saved Rider’s fourth penalty, and it would be up to Schulman to win the MAAC for Marist.
Schulman rolled his penalty past the keeper, the fans at Tenney stormed the field, and Marist was named the 2021 MAAC Champions
Rider’s players were inconsolable, and Marist’s were lost amongst the crowd.
Head coach Matt Viggiano was calm until he was doused in Gatorade, lifted up, and carried by his players around the pitch.
“It’s the maturity and talent. I never felt like we were gonna lose.” Viggiano said. “It almost felt like it was inevitable. The mindset is we’re not done.”
The two captains, Scharf and Achterkamp played a huge part in winning the tournament for Marist. They were the only two to start every game in the season.
“It’s easy to have good ideas on paper and come up with good suggestions, but I would really give the team a lot of credit for buying into what we wanted to do. The theme of this year was doing our job and doing it to the highest standard,” said Scharf.
When Scharf scored his first career goal, he ran to the camera and crossed his arms, a celebration made famous by PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold.
“One of my favorite players is Trent Alexander-Arnold. I figured I’d do that too.” Scharf said. Both Scharf and Alexander-Arnolds are right-backs, but Scharf says they aren’t exactly similar. “I would say I’m probably a defense first [style] outside-back, but I did try to improve my service as we play a pretty attacking brand of soccer here.”
“It’s an indescribable feeling. There might have been a few tears coming out after the final PK,” said fellow captain Achterkamp. “We have been practicing PKs. We knew who was gonna take one and which order. Everything was the way it was supposed to go, but PKs are a lottery sometimes.”
Galloway had been awarded the Championship MVP for his goal and penalty in the shootout. “I think it’s been the best soccer of my career,” Galloway said. “I had a good time at Rutgers but we didn’t accomplish as much as we’ve done here in these three months. I’ve only been here for three months but I’m happy to make a difference in the program and change history.”
Galloway had, in fact, changed history. Marist had won their fourth championship with one of the best seasons in MAAC history. They had been awarded as such. Achterkamp won the Defensive Player of the Year, Ilin won Goalkeeper of the Year, and Viggiano won Head Coach of the Year. Demarre Montoute, Henrique Cruz, Bernardo Gracindo, and Kyle Galloway were all represented in the MAAC Men’s Soccer All-Championship Team.
The Division I NCAA men’s soccer selection show will take place on Monday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. ET, where Marist is currently ranked #66 in the nation.
Edited by Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Luke Sassa