By Brandon Scalea
For the second year in a row, the men’s soccer team will be the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Tournament, following a thrilling 5-3 win over St. Peter’s.
Heading into the Nov. 2 matchup with the Peacocks, Rider needed a win to clinch a first-round bye and stay in the race for a regular-season title. The Broncs did their part, but Quinnipiac’s 1-0 victory over Fairfield clinched the top seed.
Rider’s game against St. Peter’s was arguably its wildest of the year, as the Broncs squandered a two-goal lead, trailed 3-2 and then scored three goals in four minutes late in the second half to pull out a victory.
Junior forward Jose Aguinaga said the game was one of the most intense he has ever been a part of.
“It was a pretty crazy game, and let me tell you, one does not play many games like that in his career,” he said. “Even though we didn’t execute the way we wanted, especially when leading by two, we figured it out and managed to win.”
In the first half, the Broncs were off to a dominant start. After a goal was waved off because of an offsides call, senior midfielder Fernando Pina scored his second goal of the season off a rebound in front of the net. The goal came in the 24th minute, and the 1-0 lead lasted until halftime, with the Broncs outshooting the visitors, 7-1.
Two minutes into the second half, junior midfielder Elliot Otmani scored his first of two goals in the game off an assist from Pina. It gave Rider a 2-0 lead, and it looked like the team would cruise to an easy home win.
However, starting in the 70th minute, last-place St. Peter’s came alive, as the Peacocks’ senior forward Luke Fairlamb scored two quick goals off penalty kicks, one coming on a rebounded penalty kick to tie the score. Three minutes later, the Peacocks took a 3-2 lead off a corner kick.
Rider would not let its in-state rival spoil the team’s playoff seeding, though. Just three minutes after St. Peter’s took the lead, senior forward Adrien Huss tied the score on a free kick. The goal sent the crowd of over 700 back to its feet, where it would have plenty of reason to remain for the rest of the game.
Less than a minute later, the Broncs were granted another free kick. The initial shot was blocked aside, but Otmani made an unbelievable play off the rebound to net his second goal and give Rider a 4-3 lead.
The Peacocks then threatened in Rider’s end, but during a corner kick, a St. Peter’s player was knocked to the turf. While the coaching staff and several Peacocks argued for a penalty, Rider’s freshman forward Clement Bourret took the ball on a three-on-one and buried another Rider goal, sealing the deal with a 5-3 advantage.
A St. Peter’s assistant coach was ejected as a result of the play and a scuffle nearly ensued on the sidelines.
Rider will play its semifinal game against the higher-advancing seed on Nov. 11 in Hamden, Connecticut, where the tournament is hosted. If it wins, the MAAC-title game is on Nov. 13. The Broncs are looking for their second straight conference championship.
Aguinaga thinks winning the way the team did against St. Peter’s will give it momentum at the right time.
“It’s a huge win, of course, because it gives us the right energy for the postseason,” he said. “We’re ready to defend our title.”