By Rob Rose
After a dreadful nonconference season, the men’s soccer team unleashed its offense on a pair of MAAC opponents, defeating Iona 3-1 and Marist 2-0, while two players earned the MAAC’s offensive and defensive weekly honors.
In its previous seven matches, of which its record was 1-5-1, Rider had only scored twice before a three-goal performance in the victory over Iona on Sept. 26.
In the meeting between the teams last season, the Broncs needed a late goal in the 76th minute from sophomore back Sergio Aguinaga and forward Jose Aguinaga ’18 to defeat Iona, 2-1 on the road.
In this season’s meeting, Rider’s offense was led by sophomore forward Pablo DeCastro, who registered a goal and an assist during the match. The goal was his second of the season and came off a rebound after a shot by sophomore midfielder Mathis Catanzaro, who was playing in his first game of the season due to injury.
In addition to the return of Catanzaro, who was a member of the 2017 MAAC All-Rookie Team and started 13 games last season, junior forward Clement Bourret entered the lineup for the first time since Aug. 24, also due to injury. Bourret, a member of the 2016 MAAC All-Rookie Team, had a goal and nine assists in 2017.
The addition of these two players back into the lineup and the best offensive game of the season for the Broncs was no coincidence.
“Obviously, it doesn’t take a soccer genius to see the difference when those guys are in there,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso. “They were a little winded and they put in 40 good minutes each for us. Hopefully, we’re going to keep working them in a little bit.”
The Broncs held onto the lead for the first 60 minutes of the game until Iona scored on a goal by Najim Romero. The tie wouldn’t last very long, as Rider responded in the 72nd minute with a goal by junior back Arthur Herpreck.
The go-ahead goal was set up by a corner kick from graduate student forward Elliott Otmani, which was headed on by DeCastro and finished by Herpreck.
The goal was the first of the season for Herpreck, who has now scored in each of his three seasons for the Broncs.
“It was a good goal that Arthur pulled out,” said Inverso. “I think it just kind of energized us and we needed it.”
Ten minutes later, Otmani would join in on the scoring, notching a penalty kick for his second goal of the season, both of which had been off penalties.
“We’ve been losing so many close ones that we really needed to pull out a close one,” said Inverso. “It wasn’t pretty, but we take it and move on to the next one.”
The next game was a road trip to Marist on Sept. 29. The teams met once in 2017 and played to a 0-0 draw in double overtime.
The 2018 meeting featured another stellar performance in net by sophomore goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois. He made a season and career-high seven saves in the game while recording his second shutout of the campaign. Gatinois was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week after saving 11 shots in the team’s two games.
“It feels really great,” said Gatinois. “Even though it’s a personal recognition, from my point of view, it represents an award for the whole team.”
The Broncs got on the board first with a brilliant connection by a pair of Frenchmen, when Otmani sent a free kick soaring over the Red Foxes’ defense where junior back Sylvain Coco settled the ball before finishing the goal with a shot inside the right post.
The goal was the first of the season for Coco, who was named to both the All-MAAC First Team and All-MAAC Rookie Team after scoring three goals off set pieces in 2017.
Earlier that day, Coco learned that his grandmother had passed away, which gave the goal extra meaning. After the back finished off the goal, he pointed to the sky before being swarmed by teammates.
“I pointed to the sky to dedicate that goal to her,” said Coco. “I was thinking about her throughout the game and that victory was also for her.”
The second goal of the match came off another free kick by Otmani and featured another player born in France. Otmani’s kick was gathered by Paris native and junior back Emmanuel Kouma, who lifted the ball over his head and back to Otmani, who raced in from the midfield and blasted a left-footed missile past the goalkeeper.
After registering an assist and goal in each of the team’s games last week, Otmani was named MAAC Offensive Player of the Week on Oct. 1.
The assist gave Kouma the first point of his career. He was named to the All-MAAC Team last season and started 18 games in his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
Not even 30 seconds after the Broncs took a 2-0 lead, the Red Foxes earned a penalty kick and the 2017 MAAC Player of the Year, Allen Gavilanes, stepped to the ball to attempt to cut Rider’s lead in half.
The left-footed Gavilanes drove a ball low and toward the left post but a diving effort by Gatinois denied the scoring chance and he managed to hold onto the shot.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a keeper catch the ball on a penalty kick,” said Inverso. “He was off-the-charts good tonight.”
Despite a rough start to the season, the two-game winning streak to begin conference play has Rider tied for first in the MAAC with Siena with six points.
The Broncs’ next match is at home on Oct. 3 at 4 p.m., when they take on last-place Niagara.
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