By Brandon Scalea
With an undefeated record at the time, the men’s soccer team hosted the then-No. 1 team in the East region, Temple, on Sept. 10.
In front of a raucous crowd of over 1,000 at Ben Cohen Field, Rider (4-2) proved to everyone that they could be the real deal in 2016. The defending MAAC champs overcame a scoreless first half and blanked the Owls, 2-0.
But then, the 4-0 Broncs stumbled, losing two straight.
Head Coach Charlie Inverso said it’s difficult to pinpoint what made the team so good in the early going this season. Last year’s MAAC championship team started conference play 0-2.
“I think we’re just a happier team,” he said. “Other than that, I can’t really tell you why we’re clicking so much. I just think everyone is on the same page and we all have a lot of confidence in the group we have right now.”
The first half featured two similar, attack-minded teams struggling to control possession. Senior goalkeeper Ryan Baird made three saves as the Broncs were outshot 8-6. The second half was actually lopsided in favor of Temple as well, despite Rider finding the net twice. The Broncs were outshot 12-5, but Baird stood tall.
In the 54th minute, senior forward Rob Nardiello put the Broncs on the board. He took a deep pass from senior midfielder Christian Flath that was right on the money, and deflected it past Temple’s goalkeeper, Alex Cagle.
Although Temple still controlled the pace offensively, Rider had all the momentum after drawing first blood. Just nine minutes later, senior midfielder Adrien Huss took advantage of Cagle being knocked down to the ground, sending the ball home for a 2-0 lead.
Baird finished the game with seven saves, his best coming off a penalty kick with 23 minutes left. He sprawled to his left to preserve the shutout, marking the third time he stopped a penalty kick in his Rider career.
The undefeated streak would come to an end three days later, however, as the nationally-ranked Broncs headed crosstown to Princeton. Though winless at the time, the Tigers cruised in the second half to an impressive victory. Rider outshot its Ivy League rival 17-9, but it was the home team that found the back of the net three times.
The first half was another scoreless one for Rider, though it had some near misses. Late in the half, Flath hit the post on a free kick.
In the 60th minute, Princeton’s Benjamin Martin scored off a cross for the first goal of the evening. It was only the second goal of the season allowed by Baird.
It didn’t take long for the skilled Broncs to respond, though. Twelve minutes later, freshman forward Clement Bourret finished a brilliant piece of passing by junior forward Elliot Otmani. It was Bourret’s second goal of the season, tying the game at one.
Princeton, however, seemed unwilling to fall to 0-3 on the season. The Tigers scored two late goals, including one where a forward danced around Baird and slid the ball into the gaping net. The final score was 3-1.
Inverso said he was happy with the team’s play despite the outcome.
“I thought we played a really hard-fought game,” he said. “It’s not easy to go over there and leave with a win, and I think Princeton was a hungry team. It doesn’t feel good to lose, but there’s no reason to be concerned.”
On Sept. 16, the Broncs traveled to New York for a meeting with Long Island University (LIU) Brooklyn, a team they beat handedly last season. This time around, the Blackbirds had the upper hand, getting the best of Baird twice for a 2-1 win.
The only goal for Rider was scored by Bourret, his third of the year. It came off another great pass from Otmani and tied the game. LIU Brooklyn took a 1-0 lead in the 66th minute of play, with the ultimate game-winner coming with four minutes left in regulation.
Rider outshot the home team 14-11.
The Broncs will begin MAAC play on Sept. 24, when they head up to Buffalo, New York to play Canisius.