After struggling to capitalize on first-half opportunities, Marist men’s soccer pulled away in the second half to defeat Saint Peter’s 2-1 to start conference play.
Wearing their all-red road uniforms on a windy afternoon in Jersey City, Marist (3-2-1, 1-0 MAAC) thoroughly outplayed Saint Peter’s (0-4-2, 0-1 MAAC). The scoreboard did not reflect their domination until the second half, when a Skyler Cunha free kick took a lucky bounce and sophomore defender Albion Bacaj notched his first career goal to put Marist up by two.
Marist came into their first MAAC matchup with a .500 record in non-conference play, winning and losing a pair of matches to go along with a draw. In their most recent contest, the team returned to New York after a Florida road trip, losing 3-1 to the University at Albany in a one-sided road match.
Saint Peter’s entered today still winless, having lost three and drawing two matches so far, most recently losing to St. John’s by a score of 2-1. Today’s game also marked the first MAAC matchup of the season for the Peacocks.
In the sixth minute, sophomore midfielder Skyler Cunha fired off a shot and drilled the nearest Peacock defender in the head, leading to a brief pause in play. A lefty shot by freshman midfielder Adam Rustami in the 10th minute was acrobatically saved by Saint Peter’s senior goalkeeper Pedro Alves, who leaped to his right and deflected the ball out of play.
The back-and-forth scoreless affair continued without many chances until the 22nd minute. Junior midfielder Jared Juleau chipped a high-arcing shot from the left side that Alves adeptly saved by leaping up and catching the ball with his outstretched arms.
Marist pushed for another scoring chance three minutes later when Rustami found himself near the right post with a path to the goal, but a Peacock defender slid in at the last second to stop the attack. Juleau had another chance to get Marist on the board in the 29th minute, launching a free kick over defenders and toward the lower right corner of the goal, but Alves dove out to his left to make another save.
Saint Peter’s had one of their few chances of the first half in the 35th minute on a close-range free kick from the right side, but after a deflection off a Marist defender, graduate student goalkeeper Luca Bulfon corralled the ball.
At the half, the match remained scoreless despite Marist outpacing Saint Peter’s in numerous offensive categories, including shots (9-2), shots on goal (6-0), and corner kicks (5-2). This was in no small part due to Alves, who had six vital saves in the half. Bulfon, on the other hand, did not have work to do in the first half because the Peacocks could not get shots on goal against the Red Fox’s defense.
Marist opened the second half with a painstakingly-close scoring chance in the first couple of minutes. Juleau drove through the middle and fired an uncontested shot toward the left side, sneaking it past the outstretched Alves. However, his shot clanged off of the left post, keeping the match tied.
To this point, it seemed like the ball wasn’t bouncing the Red Foxes’ way despite a plethora of opportunities, but that was about to change. In the 51st minute, a free-kick opportunity from the left side saw Cunha and Juleau line up on opposite sides of the ball in what has become a commonly deployed set piece for the Red Foxes.
This time, it was Cunha’s turn to drill the ball out of the formation, and he reeled off a shot that initially appeared to be a bit short. However, the ball ate up Alves on a bounce and snuck past him, giving Marist a 1-0 lead that felt overdue.
Marist threatened to double the lead in the 68th minute when junior midfielder Jørgen Thue Kristiansen reversed fields and sent off a sweeping shot, but Alves made yet another save to keep the deficit at one.
The bend-don’t-break effort from Saint Peter’s back line wouldn’t last forever, as Marist finally added to their lead with under 17 minutes remaining on a gorgeous sequence. Rustami weaved up the left side and placed an accurate cross to sophomore defender Albion Bacaj, who finished the job for his first collegiate goal.
Bacaj, a native of Chappaqua, New York, did not make an appearance for Marist in 2022 and only played 73 minutes so far this season. The Marist sideline erupted in celebration, swarming him along the sideline as he celebrated.
Saint Peter’s junior defender Daniel Larsson tried to lead a last-ditch comeback attempt with his team-leading third goal of the season in the 89th minute. Although the Peacocks drew within one, it was too little too late, with Marist ultimately holding on for the 2-1 victory.
The Red Foxes will finally return home to Tenney Stadium on Tuesday night at 7 p.m., as they are slated to take on Navy in their final non-conference matchup.
Edited by Marley Pope
Graphic Credit: Jaylen Rizzo
Photo via Marist Athletics