By Stephen Neukam
The men’s soccer team dropped its regular season final at Fairfield, 3-0, crowning the Stags MAAC regular-season champions. Fairfield will be the host for the MAAC Championship.
For the third straight year, Rider will be the second seed in the conference tournament and have home-field advantage in its semifinal game against Canisius.
Rider entered the game against Fairfield with just a fraction of its regular starting 11.
Fairfield asserted its dominance early in the match, with freshman midfielder Matt McGlinchey sending a free kick from just outside the box past the Broncs’ senior keeper David Pastuna in the 27th minute.
The Stags doubled their lead in the second half, with senior forward Ben Wignall finding the net for the soon-to-be regular-season champions. Fairfield added an extra insurance goal in the 75th minute through freshman forward Don-Junior Bobe.
The three goals conceded by Rider were the most that Pastuna had allowed since the first contest of the season.
The three-goal margin of defeat was also the largest of the season for the Broncs.
Among the five changes to the starting lineup were sophomore midfielder Chase Ealy and freshman midfielder Taner Bay, who started for the first time in their collegiate careers.
“Sitting out five starters for the Fairfield game was a combination of trying to get some much-needed rest and a few players on yellow card accumulations,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso.
Junior midfielder Santiago Garcia Castro, who started the final five games of the season, said the team was still driven after losing out on the regular- season title, for the third year in a row.
“This serves as motivation to go and win the [tournament.]t So right now, the team is extremely focused and preparing for our game Thursday,” said Castro.
Rider’s overall record for the season came to 11-4-2. Twelve of those games were decided by one goal or less. In those games, Rider was 8-2-2.
Inverso thought that these close contests helped prepare the Broncs for postseason play.
“We had 10 one-goal games, of which we won eight and played in six overtimes. For sure this put us in a position to figure out how to win close games,” said Inverso.
Castro added, “We have not lost an overtime game, which shows that our team is very strong in the toughest part of the game when both teams are more fatigued.”
This late-game expertise could prove valuable for the Broncs, as four of the last five MAAC Championship finals have been decided by one goal or penalty kicks. Rider won last year’s by a two-goal margin.
The Broncs set course looking for their third consecutive MAAC Championship. The three consecutive seasons as champions would be the longest streak in the MAAC for men’s soccer since 1996.
The Broncs’ next contest will be the semifinal match on Nov. 9. Rider will play host to No. 3 seeded Canisius at 7 p.m.
The match earlier in the season between Rider and Canisius ended in a 1-1 draw at Ben Cohen Field. Canisius finished the season with a 12-3-4 record, the best overall record of any team in the MAAC.