Men’s soccer returned to the home pitch on Wednesday night looking as crisp as the autumn air in Poughkeepsie, notching a scintillating 4-0 victory over St. Peter’s to open MAAC play. Marist looked cool, calm, and collected as they thoroughly outplayed their opponent from start to finish.
The Red Foxes (5-2-1) entered the start of conference play on Wednesday looking to get back on track after a testy 1-0 loss at the hands of Cornell. The match was a chippy one, with a combined 42 fouls, causing tempers to flare in the game’s final minutes of play and landing junior left wing Jared Juleau a red card resulting in a one-game suspension for tonight’s match. In the end, a sudden goal by Cornell after an injury break in the 69th minute made the difference in an otherwise evenly-matched affair.
St. Peter’s (1-6-1) came into the match in far more dire straits, having lost three straight including most recently a 2-1 contest to Lafayette. The most glaring issue for the Peacocks has been their offense, which has been limited to one score or less in every game since the opener.
The match started off on a rather quiet note without the playmaking Juleau in the lineup, with the first shot on goal coming for Marist in the fifth minute when senior midfielder Liam Salmon spun around a defender on the left side of the box and sent a rather nondescript shot directly at graduate student goalkeeper Guillermo Badenes Mecho. Salmon followed it up with another shot from the right side in the 13th minute just outside the box, but he missed the goal to the left side by a wide margin.
Despite the relatively sleepy start, it wouldn’t be long before Marist broke the ice, as senior defensive stalwart Henrique Cruz made yet another contribution on offense, collecting a high-arcing corner kick near the right post and swiftly burying the ball into the back of the net for his third goal of the season. Cruz immediately streaked across the middle of the pitch and toward the stands as his teammates swarmed him in celebration.
“The first one, we played a near post ball, and then we actually said on the bench that we should put it back-post because it was open,” said Marist head coach Matt Viggiano. “We had known they had given up five set-piece goals already this year, so it was definitely something we wanted to take advantage of.”
The goal was an exciting one for Cruz, who has filled in nicely as a key holdover from last year’s MAAC Championship team. The defender has without a doubt stepped up his offensive game this season, which he attributes to the trust he has in his fellow teammates on the back line.
“For me, I feel like I’m having more freedom,” said Cruz. “I feel like I have guys in the back that are also giving me confidence to step up a little bit more on the attacking. Last year, I had three goals, and right now obviously with ten games to go, I already have three goals, so for me, I’m just looking forward to helping the attack score more goals or give more assists.”
The Red Foxes found themselves with another prime opportunity just seconds later when graduate student left wing Hugo Guerra fired a ground ball shot towards the left post. If the shot had been on line, it likely would’ve found the back of the net with Badenes Mecho frantically racing to his right to try and field the ball after originally being out of position. But the shot rolled just to the left of the post, much to the relief of the Peacocks.
Sophomore forward Richard Morel, the team leader in goals scored, sent pulses racing in the 28th minute when he received a pass in the right side of the box, made a flashy reverse move and then fired a strong shot towards goal, which he just barely missed high and to the left. The crowd again reached a crescendo moments later when Guerra fired off a high shot towards the center of the net, but Badenes Mecho was able to elevate and tip the ball above the crossbar and out of play with his hands.
As the first half drew to a close, the Red Foxes displayed a smothering brand of defense. Even as the Peacocks began to push the ball further into the offensive third on a more consistent basis, there were often two or three defenders in red jerseys ready to send the ball back upfield and out of harm’s way. Marist had one last chance to score in the 42nd minute when Guerra drove the ball up the left side, weaving through multiple defenders and displaying precise footwork before passing to Cruz in the middle, but Cruz’s shot was low and directly at Badenes Mecho, who recorded his third save of the half to keep the score at 1-0.
Immediately out of the gate in the second half, Marist showcased their offensive ceiling with Morel racing up the left side past the entire St. Peter’s defense, sending a booming shot towards the right side of the goal. The shot hit off the inside of the right post and ricocheted back into the net to pad the Marist lead and Morel’s team lead in goals scored (four).
The flurry of scoring continued for Marist and came in the 53rd minute when Salmon finally hit paydirt. He deftly advanced towards the 18-yard box from midfield and appeared ready to set up his teammate in the middle before taking matters into his own hands, firing off a towering shot from long range. The ball hit off the bottom of the crossbar and directly into the center of the goal, giving Salmon his first score of the season and the Red Foxes their first performance with more than two goals scored this year.
“My accolations don’t mean anything unless we win, so definitely happy to get all three points and move onto Iona on Saturday,” said Salmon. “The intensity was definitely there [tonight].”
The excitement returned in the 74th minute when Marist freshman left wing Damola Akanni, who was filling in for the suspended Juleau, made a contribution of his own by charging up the left flank to keep the ball in bounds along the goal line, passing it back inward towards freshman attacking center midfield Jonathan Salguero and assisting him for his first goal of the year.
With a commanding 4-0 lead, Viggiano prioritized making some substitutions as they coasted to victory. Graduate student goalkeeper Samuel Ilin received a well deserved break after playing every minute this season, as he was subbed out in the 84th minute for backup senior goalkeeper Dylan McDermott, who stayed in through the final whistle.
Marist now sets their sights on Iona, as they will head to New Rochelle to face off against the Gaels at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez-Paz
Photo from Kira Crutcher