By Carlos Toro
The Rider men’s soccer team started each of its last two seasons losing three of its first four games en route to a disappointing finish.
Not this time. The Broncs opened their 2013 season 4-1 marking their best start since 1996.
The most recent win came on Sept. 17 when they played at home against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. Rider was able to out-shoot LIU Brooklyn (1-4-1, 0-0 NEC) 7-0 in the first half, but were unable to score.
In the second half Rider (4-1, 0-0 MAAC) again came up empty, sending the game to overtime. With 3:52 remaining in the second overtime, sophomore backfielder Sonimi Halliday scored the only goal of the game off a kick from freshman midfielder Christian Flath, ending the game 1-0.
Head Coach Charles Inverso, who has faced LIU Brooklyn before, was not surprised the Broncs had trouble scoring.
“They are a really good defensive team,” he said. “We have played these guys three times since I have been here and this is the first time we have scored against them.”
The Broncs’ season began with two comfortable home victories against Robert Morris (1-2-2, 0-0 NEC) on Sept. 1 and Saint Joseph’s (1-1-3, 0-0 Atlantic 10) on Sept. 3. Rider continued by defeating Bryant (2-4, 0-0 NEC) 2-1 on the road on Sept. 15 Rider dominated the first half, going up 2-0. The second score came from freshman forward Zach Bond, who scored his first collegiate goal. Inverso is impressed with how his team has gelled this early in the season.
“I think that right now we have really good chemistry,” he said. “The players all like each other and that is not easy to find. When you have that on a team it is a blessing and it can win a lot of games for you.”
Bryant came back, scoring a late second-half goal, but couldn’t gain enough momentum to tie it up, despite outshooting the Broncs 14-10.
“We wanted to have the game under control, but Bryant had a very direct style of play and toward the middle of the second half the game started to open up for them, which led to their goal,” Bond said. “Fortunately, we were able to tough it out and get the win. We wanted to give it our all so that we could secure it.”
That victory came just a few days after the team suffered its first loss of the season against Temple (4-1, 0-0 AAC) on the road on Sept. 11. Starting freshman goalkeeper Jimmy Quilter sustained an injury in the second half, forcing him to leave the game. Freshman goalkeeper David Pastuna, who replaced Quilter, surrendered a goal on a penalty that would give the Owls the win 1-0.
One of the biggest changes this season is the youth of the Broncs. Last season the team featured nine seniors, but this year it only has one.
“Normally I would worry about having only one senior but that one senior is [backfielder] Eric Elgin,” Inverso said. “For all of the years I have been coaching, I don’t know if I have coached a more responsible and trustworthy player. People rally around him because he is a calm, confident presence no matter what the situation. He never ceases to amaze me about how much he cares about his teammates and doing the right thing. His attitude has spread to a lot of the younger players, who are now showing some good leadership qualities of their own.”
The team is predominantly freshmen — 11 of the 23-man team are in their first year — but so far youth has been able to propel the team.
“We have been working hard and we still have almost three years left together so things can only progress and get better,” Bond said.
Four games remain before conference play. The Broncs look to finish with a positive result before facing Marist in their first conference game at home on Oct. 5.
By beating Bryant on Sept. 15, the Broncs actually tied their win total from last year (3-13-1, 2-5-1 MAAC). Bond, who just joined the Rider squad, looks forward to playing in the program.
“I do believe that we have the potential to do things here that have not been done in a very long time,” Bond said. “I have a great feeling about this year and the years to come. The program has a bright future and I am very glad to be a part of it.”
The Broncs will look to continue their strong start on Sept. 22 in Olean, N.Y. against St. Bonaventure.