By Stephen Neukam
It was an exciting weekend at Ben Cohen Field as the men’s soccer team improved their record to 3-1 after defeating La Salle. Sophomore center back Sylvian Coco, whose goal earned Rider the win, was named MAAC Rookie of the Week.
Rider finally returned home on Sept. 9 to face the Explorers, who struggled early in the season and were looking for their first victory.
The contest started with Rider absorbing early pressure from the La Salle attack. It looked like the floodgates might open when La Salle forward Mike Liska tapped in a low cross from freshman midfielder Soji Olatoye, who was credited with the assist. The Explorers took a one-goal lead 14 minutes into the match. After conceding the opening goal, the Broncs responded. Rider saw their first real chance when senior forward Elliot Otmani fired a shot from a free kick, only to see the ball headed behind the goal by the La Salle defense.
Rider finally saw a breakthrough after a long ball from sophomore back Emmanuel Kouma was chested down the edge of the box by senior forward Jose Aguinaga, who then fired a low shot that was blocked back into play by goalkeeper Mark Tobin. Otmani capitalized and sent the ball into the back of the net, leveling the game 30 minutes into the match.
The Broncs kept the pressure on La Salle, with freshman forward Pablo DeCastro heading the ball that reached him at midfield, following a deflection from a corner. DeCastro found himself taking on two La Salle defenders, and had the ball kicked free just before reaching the 18-yard box. Minutes after returning to the match, following a left knee injury, Coco put Rider ahead by one goal. Coco latched onto a free kick cross from sophomore forward Clement Bourret and headed the ball into the top left corner. The Broncs went into halftime with a 2-1 lead.
Rider started the match in the second half by giving possession away to La Salle. The Explorers looked motivated to tie the game, sending in an early cross that was headed out by the Broncs’ defense. Rider began to settle in and looked bright after an impressive give-and-go pass between Otmani and Aguinaga. It resulted in a low cross into the box, which was cleared by a La Salle defender.
Rider continued to press and Otmani played the ball behind the La Salle defense. Bourret split the defenders, sending the shot to the left of Tobin, who punched the ball behind for a corner kick.
With 15 minutes left in the game, at a 2-1 lead for Rider, La Salle began to push the ball forward. After a string of corners were cleared away, Rider continued to absorb the pressure. The opponent, desperate to catch up with only three minutes left to play, sent a dangerous cross into the box from the left side of the field.
Senior goalkeeper David Pastuna made a crucial save over two La Salle attackers. The whistle sounded at Ben Cohen Field and Rider won its third straight contest, improving to 3-1 this season. After being on the road for three games to start the season, it was home sweet home for the Broncs.
The Broncs host Villanova at home on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. Rider beat the Wildcats last year in overtime.