By Aidan Brager
Rider men’s soccer is heading back to the NCAA Tournament as the Broncs defeated Siena in the semifinals and Iona in the finals to earn their sixth Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship in program history.
On Nov. 9, the Broncs won convincingly over Siena, advancing to the MAAC Tournament finals with a 2-0 win.
The game kicked off differently than the Broncs’ others, with the team unable to convert on chances early in the game. Their constant pressure resulted in few chances.
This changed in the 36th minute, as the Siena keeper attempted to clear the ball but was instead intercepted by graduate student forward Zaki Alibou, who quickly took a strike on goal, landing in the top left corner. This was Alibou’s first goal of the season, and gave Rider a 1-0 lead.
“I’m really happy that I could contribute,” Alibou said. “The team did a great job defensively and offensively. We have to make sure we stick together.”
Less than a minute later, Rider added to their lead. Alibou looked for a second goal as he attempted a header off of a cross. Although Siena saved his shot, sophomore midfielder Momo Diop was there to clean up the rebound, increasing the score to 2-0 heading into halftime.
The second half consisted of Siena clearly changing their style of play, which resulted in them having twice the amount of shots then they did in the first half.
Due to the Broncs’ stellar defense and goalkeeping, they allowed zero goals and went on to win 2-0, advancing to the MAAC Tournament finals.
“[Sophomore goalkeeper] Adam Salama was fantastic, said Duernberger. “He made a few saves that I could not believe myself.”
When asked his thoughts on the match, Duernberger said, “I’m really pleased with how we were able to come out and play … Really happy for our guys.”
Late game heroics by Rider resulted in a nail-biting 2-1 win against Iona in the MAAC Tournament finals advancing the Broncs to the NCAA Tournament. In what has been the Broncs’ most important game to date, they stepped up to the plate. “[It was] one of the wildest college soccer game I’ve been apart of,” said Duernberger. The scoring kicked off in the 34th minute by Diop, who has caught fire as of late. Diop dribbled around the defense and fired the ball into the top right, giving Rider the lead.
The score stayed 1-0 heading into halftime as the Broncs and Gaels kept it close. The shot tally read 5-4 in favor of Iona.
Shortly after the second half began, Iona proved why they were here, scoring almost immediately after halftime to tie the game back up.
Iona took advantage of a mistake in the Broncs’ defense, which led to a goal for the Gaels in the 47th minute.
“We knew being up 1-0, the game was probably not going to finish like that,” said Duernberger. “We knew it was going to be a bit of a wild second half. Iona is very good.”
The second half was a shot-heavy affair, with both sides having almost 10 shots each.
Late in the game, the Broncs’ lead goal-scorer of the season was called. Senior forward Babacar Diene was on the right side of the field when he took one touch to the left and rocketed a shot towards goal. The shot would fly by the keeper to improve the Broncs’ lead to 2-1 as Diene further proved his value to the team.
Although the game wasn’t over yet, Iona kept on the attack in hopes of keeping their NCAA Tournament dreams alive. With just 16 seconds left, they got their chance.
The referee called a foul at the top of the box and awarded Iona a free kick, but changed the spot of the foul, giving Iona a penalty and chance to tie the game up and send it into extra time.
Iona stepped up and perfectly placed the ball into the bottom right corner. Fortunately for Rider, Salama made a phenomenal diving save to stop the shot.
Duernberger said, “I had full confidence in Adam … I knew he was going to be up for it.”
Time ran out and the Broncs were champions, punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Rider will be traveling to the University of Vermont to play the Catamounts on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. The Game can be streamed on ESPN+.