As mens soccer honored their seniors under the lights at Tenney stadium on Saturday night, their postseason hopes were ended, as they came up short in a must-win tilt against Fairfield, drawing by a score of 1-1.
The task at hand for Marist (6-6-4, 2-4-3) was simple: win. With the Red Foxes still sitting at eighth in the MAAC conference standings and needing to climb to sixth to advance to the MAAC championship tournament, they entered play needing to prevail in their final two matches of the regular season against Fairfield (8-8-1, 4-4-1) and Mount St. Mary’s if they hoped to land a spot in the tournament. Marist found themselves in this position after consecutive draws with Rider and Niagara, leading to a heightened sense of urgency from the opening kick.
After a season full of playing matches shorthanded, Marist yet again found themselves in that position prior to the match. This time, it was senior midfielder Liam Salmon and graduate student German Fuentes forced to miss the action on senior night as a result of them each racking up five non-basic fouls over the course of the season.
“We get one guy back and two guys would go out, we get two guys back, then another guy would go out,” said head coach Matt Viggiano. “There was never any consistency this year, and I think it showed in our performances.”
The proceedings revved up in the sixth minute when Marist set up to take a free kick on the right side of the offensive third from a bit outside of the 18. Three Red Foxes surrounded the ball in the kicking formation, and it was senior defender Henrique Cruz who drilled the ball to the high right side of the goal, leading to a save from junior goalkeeper James Andersen as he deflected the ball to his left.. His counterpart, Marist graduate student goalkeeper Samuel Ilin, notched a save of his own later in the 16th minute when junior forward Alex Marin headed an unsuccessful close-range bouncing shot toward him.
Marist then dug into their bag of tricks in the 18th minute, showing off their work in practice by attempting an elaborate set piece on a corner kick. They lined up in a twitchy formation, shifting around until graduate student midfielder Jacob Schulman peeled back behind the line on the left side. The ball was fed to him behind the formation and he attempted an unsuccessful bicycle kick, leading Cruz to corral the loose ball and shoot high and to the left, where Andersen once again deflected the shot away.
The scoreless tie was finally broken in the 24th minute, when senior midfielder Alex Oliveira scored on a shot low and to the left after being assisted by junior Raz Amir on a fast-developing play, giving the Stags the 1-0 lead. The scoreboard said 1-0, but it might as well have said 2-0 with Marist needing to outscore Fairfield by at least one to keep their postseason hopes alive, pushing their season to the brink.
Despite the gloomy outlook, Marist was not done yet. Just two minutes later, with the goalkeeper being out of position, Schulman tumbled into the six-yard box after colliding with multiple defenders and drew a penalty shot. After a delayed stutter towards the right side, he swept his leg across his body and buried the shot to his left, completely fooling Andersen and drawing the score even at one apiece.
With the team back at square one, another appetizing opportunity presented itself in the 30th minute. Schulman, who was deep into the offensive third on the right side, hit junior left wing Jared Juleau on a crosser, leading to a shot that missed just to the left. They squandered yet another opportunity in the 37th minute when freshman left wing Damola Akkani fired a strike to graduate student midfielder Skylar Conway from the upper right part of the offensive third, with the diving Andersen saving Conway’s low shot from the center of the six-yard box.
With about 36 minutes left in regulation, Juleau nearly put the crowd into a frenzy when he fired a crossing shot from close-range on the left side that just missed sneaking inside of the right post. The crowd crescendoed and then groaned as the teaser of a shot rolled harmlessly out of play.
The bad luck continued in the 73rd minute when Cruz received a crosser and headed the ball downward toward the right post, once again just barely missing the wicketts and conjuring another groan for the crowd. The plethora of missed opportunities served as a microcosm for the season at-large, with Marist being close yet coming up just short in match after match while constantly playing shorthanded as they failed to live up to their predecessors.
With under two minutes to go, the biggest heartbreaker of all occurred when Cruz went vertical and struck the ball out of midair and towards Anderson, who stretched out to the bottom left side to make the save just in the nick of time. This was Marist’s last stand – from there, the season effectively ended on a whimper.
“It’s tough to come from a year [where] we won a MAAC championship and to be eliminated the way that we were,” said senior defender Bernardo Gracindo. “I feel for the team, I’m friends with all of those guys… it’s really tough.”
“We’re as good as any team in the conference, so it’s just so frustrating that we’re not gonna be in the playoffs,” added Viggano. “It’s mind-boggling to me, to be honest with you.”
Marist wraps up their season at home on Wednesday, when they take on Mount St. Mary’s at 7 p.m.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Kira Crutcher