The men’s soccer team continued to look for its stride as MAAC play opened up last weekend. The Broncs struggled in non-conference competition this season, going 1-7-2, with their last victory coming in late August.
With Rider’s four game homestand in the past, the team hit the road for its first conference test in Canisius. The Griffs entered the contest with a 4-6-1 record while leading the MAAC in goals with 22. Canisius also boasted one of the top offensive threats in the league, Alan McGreal, who came in leading the conference in shots and assists.
The Broncs were up to the challenge but the Griffs jumped out early in the first half, scoring in the 13th and 28th minutes, and then capping off the frame with a goal to take a 3-0 lead going into the break.
Rider improved tremendously in the second half, displaying aggressive defense, and kept Canisius from crossing midfield for the majority of the final period.
Rider’s offensive problems continued though, as the Griffs’ offensive show in the first half held up for the final score, 3-0. Despite the outcome, Rider played well, outshooting Canisius 14-11 while senior goalkeeper Randall Zapolski made five saves.
Head Coach Russ Fager was pleased with his team’s effort.
“The game was much more even than the score indicated,” he said. “We outshot them and had most of the ball. They scored on two direct shots that were both very impressive.”
Sophomore Jim Bradley played a solid 90 minutes and had four shots in the losing effort.
The men looked to rebound two days later as they traveled to Lewiston, N.Y., to face off with another offensive power in Niagara.
The Purple Eagles sported a 6-3-2 overall record, while losing their first MAAC contest, 1-0, against the 12th ranked team in the nation, Loyola. Niagara came in with a very impressive record, leading the conference in shots, points, and saves, giving Rider a handful to deal with.
The Broncs played the Purple Eagles tight for the first 22 minutes, showing no fear, but then in a matter of seconds they broke down. Niagara put four goals on the board in only eight minutes on a variety of plays. They scored on a give-and-go, rebound, fast break, and an unassisted shot to put the game out of reach.
Rider cut the deficit to three as junior Nico Tramontana fired in his second goal of the season off a free kick. Being a man down for the majority of the contest, after falling behind 4-0, is a tough task. The Broncs were short in the roster because junior Dylan Hastings went into the Rider goal for three minutes before receiving a red card.
“We were even in the first 23 minutes, but then we just had several breakdowns and the game really got away from us,” Fager said. “Going a player down when we are losing 4-0 was just too much for a very young team to handle.”
Niagara scored three more goals in the late minutes, as the Broncs dropped the decision by a final score of 7-1. The Purple Eagles scored two hat tricks in the game and outshot Rider 21-11. The Broncs’ leading scorer, sophomore Andrew Cotes, finished with six shots and Zapolski made three saves in 40 minutes. The Lawrenceville native is now third in the league in saves with 54.
The offensive weaknesses have been the main reason for the Broncs’ struggles. Rider ranks last in the MAAC in points with 17 and goals with only six, five of them coming from Cotes and Tramontana.
Fager tried to look at the situation with a positive approach.
“As for our offensive efforts, we continue to work on this area of the game and hopefully we are able to change those fortunes before we go too far along in the conference season,” he said.
Rider looks to turn things around today against Siena at 4 p.m.