After clinching a MAAC conference playoff berth on Thursday, Marist men’s soccer dropped a chippy home match to Rider, who used the win to leapfrog Marist in the MAAC conference standings.
Despite an early Marist (6-6-3, 4-3-2) goal from freshman Adam Rustami in just the sixth minute, Rider (8-3-4, 5-2-2) used two first-half scores to jump out to a 2-1 lead which they ultimately preserved for the balance of the match.
Prior to tonight’s match, Marist’s seniors were honored on the field as part of the team’s senior night, with players such as offensive standout Jared Juleau and longtime defensive stalwart Demarre Montoute taking part in an on-field ceremony that involved their families and Marist head coach Matt Viggiano.
“They’re experienced guys, they’re good players, they’ve been here for a long time. We’ve won championships with them, so we obviously want to keep playing [this season],” said Viggiano”
Marist came into the match having already secured a spot in the MAAC Championship tournament, but with seeding still to be determined, tonight’s match was of the utmost importance.
After a 3-1 win against Canisius last Saturday, Marist entered the day tied with Rider in the MAAC standings with 14 points, with Rider occupying the fourth seed and Marist in the fifth spot based on win percentages.
Marist missed a golden opportunity in the fifth minute; freshman midfielder Kyle Evans took the ball up himself into the box and was tripped up by a Rider defender, leading to a penalty kick for sophomore midfielder Skyler Cunha.
Cunha’s penalty kick failed to find the back of the net, as he sent a ground ball to the right side that bounced off of Rider sophomore goalkeeper Adam Salama.
Despite the miss, the Red Foxes immediately rebounded, as freshman midfielder Adam Rustami collected a stolen ball, advanced it and slipped a shot past Salama for his first collegiate goal, giving Marist a 1-0 lead.
The Red Foxes had a chance to double the score two minutes later when Evans sent in a powerful high shot from the right side, but it clanged off of the crossbar.
A defensive breakdown in the 10th minute allowed Rider to tie up the match in dramatic fashion. A push by the Broncs gave senior forward Babacar Diene the ball inside the box on the right side. With Marist graduate student goalkeeper Luca Bulfon stationed slightly out of position during the rapid advance, Diene took advantage, sending a ground ball toward the left side that slipped past Bulfon for Diene’s team-leading seventh goal of the season.
Rider had an enticing chance to take the lead with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half when junior midfielder Kevin Peprah took a close-range shot from the left side, but it veered out just to the right of the far post, keeping the match tied.
The Marist defense collapsed with just under two minutes remaining before the halftime whistle, with Rider advancing the ball at a quick pace and once again catching the Red Foxes off guard.
This time, sophomore midfielder Momo Diop did the honors, sending a shot from the left side past Bulfon to put the Broncs up 2-1. The heightened sense of urgency manifested itself near the sideline moments later, with a chippy exchange between both sides ending with a yellow card for Diene.
“Obviously there were a couple mistakes, we let a guy turn us and split us, and obviously the second goal, goalkeeper mistake,” said Viggiano. “Obviously it happens, but we gotta be tougher than that and rebound from it. Unfortunately, at this point in the season, you don’t wanna be giving points away, but that happened tonight.”
In the second half, Rider had a chance to extend the lead in the 56th minute; graduate student forward Zaki Alibou unfurled a shot on the open look but missed to the left.
Rider suffered an even more excruciating near-miss just a few minutes later. Diene beat the Marist backline and advanced the ball deep into the box, drawing out Bulfon and giving him an entirely open left side of the net to work with. Diene sent a slow dribbler forward that hooked just inches wide of the left post, keeping the deficit at one for Marist.
Diop also had a prime chance to score in the 63rd minute, possessing the ball all by himself at close range on the right side of the box; his shot also veered wide-left.
As the match progressed, the gameplay’s chippy nature increased, with Rider’s Alibou and Marist’s Montoute each receiving a yellow card on separate instances. The game got even uglier when Rider senior forward Justin Rufino laid freshman Marist freshman defender Nicholas Sanchez out on the ground in the 73rd minute, landing him a yellow card and setting Cunha up with a free kick just beyond the right side of the box.
Cunha sent in a pristine arching free kick that found Evans in prime position directly in front of the goal, but he just narrowly missed a header. Evans had another opportunity moments later up in the box, and launched a bicycle kick, but Salama made the save.
Marist couldn’t come away with a goal on a series of three corner kicks with four minutes remaining. As time ran out in the final minute, tensions escalated one final time, with Rustami and Rider senior back David Ogbonna each walking away with a yellow card.
With the win, Fairfield guaranteed that they will at worst be the fourth seed in the MAAC Championship tournament, with the possibility of ascending to the third seed. Either way, they will host a home match in the first round of the MAAC Championship tournament.
Marist will now either be the fifth or sixth seed, setting up an intriguing scenario where the Red Foxes will most likely rematch with Rider in the first round next week based on the current seeding.
“We’ll probably end up playing these guys next week anyway, so we’ll see them again,” said Viggiano.”
The final Marist regular season match will take place at Siena on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Edited by Jimmy Tsiantoulas
Photo by Jaylen Rizzo