Defending MAAC champs still in control

Senior forward Elliott Otmani won MAAC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring three goals.

By Stephen Neakam 

The men’s soccer team is 2-0 in MAAC play following a pair of wins over in-state rivals Monmouth and St. Peter’s.

Rider hit the ground running in the opening game of the week, scoring 16 minutes into the first half. Senior forward Jose Aguinaga won a challenge on a loose ball in the midfield and slid the ball ahead to senior forward Elliot Otmani. Otmani carried the ball to the top of the 18-yard box and released a low shot that squeezed inside the left side of the post giving Rider a 1-0 lead.

He continued his brilliance later in the half. After receiving a pass from freshman midfielder Mathis Catanzaro, Otmani struck the ball from 35 yards out, rocketing the shot into the top right corner, scoring his second goal of the game and his fourth of the season. The Broncs closed out the first half with the 2-0 lead, accumulating seven total shots.

Rider would continue to show dominance throughout the game, and in the 61st minute, freshman forward Pablo DeCastro collected a deflected ball from the Monmouth defense and unleashed a shot of his own from the top of the 18-yard box, beating Monmouth goalkeeper Bobby Edwards inside the left post to score his fourth goal of the season pushing the Rider lead to 3-0.

The Broncs would play the final 20 minutes of the game against 10 men, with Hawks midfielder Colin Stripling receiving a red card in the 70th minute for a dangerous slide tackle. Rider won the match 3-0.

Following the contributions from young players such as DeCastro and Catanzaro, senior keeper David Pastuna was asked about the impressive output from the first- and second-year players.

“There is a huge learning curve involved when you first start to play collegiate soccer. The type of soccer is different from anything most players have seen,” he said. “For us, we knew that if we wanted to reach our goals, we would have to make this transition quickly. The new players have done this extremely well, and that’s a huge reason why we have been so successful.”

Rider’s sights then turned to an away fixture at Saint Peter’s, where they had not won a game in six years. The task proved to be tall when, in just the third minute of the game, Saint Peter’s forward Dominic Laws scored the opening goal of the game for the Peacocks.

Rider would respond quickly. Just over 10 minutes later, Catanzaro set up Aguinaga for the game-leveling goal, tying the score at 1-1. The game remained tied going into halftime.

The Broncs looked determined to make their mark when the second half kicked off. In a quick start for Rider, Catanzaro was the beneficiary of an Aguinaga pass one minute into the second half.

Rider would not take its foot off the pedal, doubling its lead in the 51st minute, with DeCastro finishing off a pass from sophomore forward Clement Bourret. Otmani continued his impressive week by scoring Rider’s fourth and final goal of the contest in the 63rd minute, with Catanzaro picking up his second assist of the game on the play.

The whistle blew and Rider won the match 4-1. Following the victory, Head Coach Charles Inverso said the men may cautiously feed off this early success.

“I think right now we are a confident team,” he said.“When we conceded an early goal, we did not panic. For a young team, that is a good sign. We are playing well, but we need to be ready for every game.”

A pair of Broncs was recognized for stellar play. Catanzaro was awarded MAAC Rookie of the Week while Otmani won MAAC Offensive Player of the Week.

The 7-2 Broncs will aim for their fifth straight victory on Oct. 4 when they host Quinnipiac at Ben Cohen Field at 4 p.m. The game is a rematch of last year’s MAAC title game, which Rider dominated, 3-1.

The Broncs have also received votes in two different national top 25 polls, the United Soccer Coaches Poll and the College Soccer News National Rankings.

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