Men’s Soccer Squanders Opportunities, Draws With Winless Niagara

With sheets of rain drenching Tenney stadium, Marist men’s soccer squandered a second-half lead and failed to connect on a late penalty kick, settling for a 1-1 draw with Niagara.

An electric goal from senior midfielder Jared Juleau gave Marist the lead in the 20th minute, and the lead held until Niagara finally broke through in the 61st minute. The Red Foxes seemed poised to escape with a win when a handball in the 87th minute resulted in a penalty kick for sophomore midfielder Skyler Cunha, but a clutch save kept the match tied.

The Red Foxes (3-3-2) returned to the pitch for the third time in eight days, with tonight’s match their second in MAAC play. Most recently, Marist narrowly fell 1-0 to Navy in their final non-conference match, coming up empty-handed despite multiple opportunities to score.

Tonight’s opponent in Niagara (0-6-2) represented Marist’s least successful opponent this season, with the Purple Eagles failing to notch a single victory in their first seven matches. Their most recent loss came to Iona, as they fell 1-0 in their MAAC opener while getting shut out for the third time this year. Niagara has struggled to gel while acclimating to a whopping 15 newcomers to their roster.

The first scoring opportunity came in the fifth minute for Niagara, as junior forward Felix Kolger charged forward and faced a one-on-one with Marist goalkeeper Luca Bulfon. Bulfon didn’t shy away from the opportunity, drawing closer to Kolger and deflecting his eventual shot out of the way.

Marist’s first substantial opportunity of the night presented itself in the 15th minute. Freshman forward / midfielder Adam Rustami collected the ball in the middle and sent an accurate through ball up to junior forward Richard Morel on the right side; Morel was unable to capitalize, as he completely whiffed on the shot attempt.

He would find another way to contribute minutes later, notching his first assist since 2021 while aiding Juleau on a goal in the 20th minute. Juleau finished the job, slicing through the Niagara defense like a knife through a stick of warm butter. The last line of defense was Niagara sophomore goalkeeper Jamie Barry, and Juleau snuck the ball past him for his team-leading third goal of the season.

Niagara came oh-so-close to tie things up in the 28th minute. With Bulfon slightly out of position, Kolger cranked a shot over his head. To Marist’s relief, the ball banged off the right post near the top right corner to keep the Purple Eagles off the board.

Marist joined Niagara in missing a golden opportunity when Rustami sent a low shot toward the far bottom corner; the ball veered just to the right of the post, denying Rustami what would’ve been his first collegiate goal.

“During the first half, we had opportunities to shoot the ball, and I think our guys fall into the trap of trying to be too perfect,” said head coach Matt Viggiano. “It’s part of the experience when we’ve got a lot of young guys playing.”

Play paused with around four minutes remaining in the half when sophomore midfielder Jonathan Salguero went down with an injury after a Niagara attacker appeared to kick him in the head. No foul was called on the play despite the several-minute pause; Salguero exited play before returning in the second half.

Niagara again missed an enticing opportunity to knot things up just before the half when a close-range shot from senior Kevin Payne missed to the left by a razor-thin margin; the 1-0 Red Fox lead stood heading into the break.

The second half started slowly, with Marist unable to attack Niagara as consistently as other opponents have; the Purple Eagles have averaged nearly 19 shots allowed this season, yet Marist had only reeled off six shots with 30 minutes remaining.

The weather undoubtedly contributed to the offensive struggles, with players slipping all over the pitch. Regardless, Marist found themselves unable to sustain consistent pressure over large stretches until late, with the Niagara defense holding strong despite trailing by a goal.

“I think it was funky, it was a weird game. We kind of lost our composure a little bit,” said Viggiano. “I think the way Niagara was playing, and all of the elements, we didn’t seem, I don’t wanna say sharp, but we were kind of just open. It was way too open. We usually don’t play like that, we usually have a little more closure, and we usually are more composed on the ball.”

Niagara squandered yet another opportunity in the 59th minute, with one of their attackers heading a high-arcing corner kick in the box but failing to aim it accurately. Despite another near-miss, they continued to press, and sure enough, they were rewarded for their efforts.

Senior forward Asher Barnes facilitated the offense in the 61st minute, assisting freshman forward Dominic Cintra, who encroached toward Bulfon and slipped it past him for his first goal of the season. Suddenly, the match was tied, with the Red Foxes facing the prospect of failing to defeat a winless team.

In the 74th minute, Rustami took advantage of the slippery conditions, weaving through defenders who struggled to maintain their footing. Again, he just barely missed his first collegiate goal, with his low shot hitting off the left post.

Marist was denied another chance to retake the lead in an even more painstaking fashion just over a minute later. Juleau lumbered up the left side and stared down Barry before uncorking a shot that also just barely missed to the left, leading to audible groans from the sidelines and frustrated fans in the stands.

“We’ve got to find a way to put the ball in the back of the net,” said Viggiano. “I think we’re lacking a bit of confidence right now, obviously, in front of goal… I think the guys, they’re pressing a little bit.”

Marist received a gift with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, as a handball on Niagara sophomore back Alberto Sanchez Cervera inside the box set up the Red Foxes with a chance to escape with a win. Cunha lined up to take the penalty kick, and Barry lept to his right to make an incredible save, keeping the match tied.

To make matters worse, Juleau received a red card on the ensuing play after a chippy exchange with a Niagara player at midfield.

“We’ve got to be mentally stronger than to let that affect us,” said Viggiano.

Marist will now get a week to regroup, as they continue conference play with a home match against Manhattan next Saturday at 7 p.m.

Edited by Marley Pope

Photo Credit: Kira Crutcher

Graphic Credit: Cara Lacy

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