About a week-and-a-half ago, it all seemed so easy for Marist men’s soccer. The Red Foxes cruised to an easy 4-0 win over Saint Peter’s in the opening game of MAAC play at Tenney Stadium back on Sept. 28.
At that point, Matt Viggiano’s squad sat at 5-2-1 overall and a tidy 1-0 in the league. Even though it was only a game into the conference slate, Marist looked primed to fulfill preseason expectations which had it a near-unanimous pick to win the MAAC.
Fast forward 11 days and three games, and the Red Foxes now sit in eighth place in the MAAC at 1-3. At the start of the season, it would have been nearly impossible to foresee three straight losses in the league. But now, here we are.
The unfortunate streak started on Oct. 1 with a 1-0 loss against local rival Iona in New Rochelle in a game which Marist was unlucky to get a more positive result from.
Four days later, a trip to Hamden, Connecticut brought another loss, a 3-2 defeat against Quinnipiac. A much more devastating blow came in the form of a potentially season-ending injury to sophomore forward Richard Morel, who went down in the second half against the Bobcats.
Morel, described by Viggiano as “the heart and soul of the team,” struck four goals in 10 games this season and was coming off a freshman season that saw him tally seven goal contributions (three goals, four assists).
“I mean I’m not a doctor, but I don’t know if we’re getting him back,” was Viggiano’s prognosis of Morel to Center Field after Marist’s most recent loss to Siena on Saturday.
The game against the Saints was easily the most painful of the recent string of defeats for the Red Foxes.
Playing without Morel and Jared Juleau, the team’s leader in goal contributions (suspended for yellow card accumulation), Marist went ahead on a Jacob Schulman penalty and nursed the resulting 1-0 lead well into the second half.
Then, disaster struck.
The Red Foxes had been facing increasing pressure from the Saints, who finally equalized on a header from Thomas Storodegard in the 76th minute. Barely more than 60 seconds later, Storodegard struck again, deflecting a shot from one of his teammates past Marist keeper Sam Ilin.
Just like that, the Red Foxes went from 1-0 up to 2-1 down and would fail to find an equalizer in the final minutes.
After Saturday, Marist now sits at 5-5-1 with three league losses. Last year’s MAAC-winning squad only lost twice in conference play on its way to hosting the conference tournament and ultimately making the NCAAs.
Now, home-field advantage, once November comes around, is the least of the team’s worries.
Adversity is a term that gets tossed around more than it should, but there’s no doubt that Viggiano and his squad have to figure out how to stop the bleeding and get the results that will secure an ascension back to the MAAC’s top six and guarantee a spot in the conference tournament (which is now the top six teams instead of the top eight).
At this point last season, the Red Foxes had just lost their second game in a row to fall to 2-2 in the MAAC. How did they respond? Well, they went undefeated in their final nine games against conference foes before bowing out in the first of the NCAA Tournament to Providence.
Marist doesn’t need to be perfect, at least not yet, but there isn’t much margin for error. Three of the next four games are away from home and that span includes a road trip to Rider, who the Red Foxes played a memorable MAAC championship game against last year.
There are six games left in the season, and four of those come against teams that sit above Marist in the standings. The Red Foxes will have ample opportunity to play themselves back into the postseason conversation, but now, in addition to having a target on their backs as last season’s champions, there is now a chance that they won’t even have the opportunity to defend their title in the postseason.
Losing Morel is a tough blow, but the roster still has the talent to beat any team in the league. But talent is the factor that will help the team get back on track. Does Marist have the mental fortitude to put losses and injuries in the rearview mirror and turn its fortunes around?
An experienced roster, a weathered head coach, and a winning culture all work in Marist’s favor. But sometimes winning teams aren’t able to stem the tide once they start losing.
The ability to handle adversity is what makes a team great. Marist men’s soccer, here’s your chance.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Kira Crutcher