By Rob Rose
After a magical run to win the MAAC Championship for the third time in four years following an up-and-down season, the men’s soccer team was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 3-1, by nationally ranked Akron. The No. 16 Zips increased their record to 10-0 in NCAA opening-round matches at Cub Cadet Field in Akron, Ohio.
“I am extremely proud of these guys,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso. “I don’t think we can look back at anything but viewing this season as successful. We’re a good team. By the end of the year, we showed that we can play with anybody.”
Akron was led by sophomore forward David Egbo who gave his team the lead in the 51st minute, and again in the 84th minute.
The initial score was the first allowed by Rider in its last 520 minutes of play, when St. Peter’s scored the lone goal in a 1-0 defeat on Oct. 24. Junior forward Marcel Zajac added a late goal on a penalty kick in the 88th minute.
Sophomore goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois was injured on a save attempt when he collided with junior back Arthur Herpreck and slammed off the turf in the 36th minute with the game tied. With potential concern of an impact to the head-or-neck area, the game went into a delay while an ambulance was brought to the field to limit any further injury to Gatinois. Both teams went to their locker rooms during the stoppage.
“We think he is doing OK,” said Inverso. “He has got some pain in his back and his neck. We’re not sure if he is concussed, but we think at this point he is doing OK thank God.”
Inverso added that Gatinois had been able to move his hands and feet despite being carried off the field on a stretcher.
Gatinois had recorded five-straight shutouts during Rider’s MAAC Championship run. He tied the 20-year-old program record for shutouts in a season, with seven, in his first season as a Bronc. Freshman goalkeeper Garret Potter replaced Gatinois in net.
Potter, who was the starting goalkeeper for Rider to open the season, had an 0-3-1 record in four starts and had not appeared in a game since Sept.15 against LIU Brooklyn when he allowed three goals. He also made a season-high six saves in the match.
Sophomore forward Pablo DeCastro tied the game in the 78th minute. DeCastro headed a cross from the right side of the field off the boot of junior back Emmanuel Kouma past the outstretched arm of the 6-foot-6-inch senior goalkeeper Ben Lundt.
DeCastro’s goal marked his fifth score in Rider’s last six games and increased his total on the season to a team-leading nine goals.
The temperature at gametime was 34 degrees and snow fell on the field for most of the first half. Leaf blowers were used to clear the lines on the field pregame and at halftime. The snow accumulation on field slowed down the ball on passes and made it difficult for players to cut and change direction.
“The field was not very good with the snow,” said DeCastro. “We tried to do our best. We fought until the end.”
Both teams entered the game on win streaks. The Zips had beaten their last four opponents to clinch a seventh-straight conference title, while the Broncs used a five-game win streak to win the MAAC. The two teams had only one common opponent, Canisius. Rider defeated Canisius, 2-0, on Oct. 31 while Akron obliterated Canisius, 10-0, on Sept. 15.
The match was the first meeting between the programs. Akron had made 12-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, highlighted by a national championship in 2010. The Zips reached the semifinals of the 2017 College Cup and were eliminated by the the eventual champions, Stanford, who won its third-consecutive national championship.
Akron advanced to play Syracuse to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. The Zips lost to the Orange, 3-1, on Oct. 1.
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