By Carlos Toro
The men’s soccer team’s historic season came to an end when it lost to the defending national champions, Virginia, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 19.
After having won the MAAC Championship for the first time since 1998, Rider (14-6-1) lost 2-0 thanks to a pair of second half goals scored by Virginia.
It was the Broncs’ best finish in a season since that 1998 season. Head Coach Charlie Inverso said that getting to the NCAA Tournament is a massive achievement that capped off a very successful season.
“If you win the MAAC Championship, you can’t help but look at it any other way, it was a success,” Inverso said. “To be honest, I would have said it was a successful season if we had made it to the MAAC finals and lost. I’m proud of the guys for their efforts.”
The first half saw both teams flash their offense at each other, with Rider taking three shots and Virginia taking six. Senior goalkeeper Ryan Baird had to contend against a Virginia team (10-4-3) that, according to Inverso, is the most athletic team in the country. Baird had two saves in the first half to keep the defending champs scoreless.
With the game heading into halftime locked at 0-0, Rider gave itself a chance to pull off the upset. Senior forward Florian Valot, who had a shot blocked in the first half, felt the team was confident in the Broncs’ chances of beating the Cavaliers.
“We did think that we had a chance to win the game,” Valot said. “It was a close game. We all knew that we had a chance to win that game against the defending champion. We were not scared or discouraged because we knew that was possible.”
Once the second half began, Virginia’s offense started to mount the pressure on Rider’s defense. The Cavaliers shot the second half’s first three shots but the Broncs held on.
Virginia managed to break the scoreless tie in the 67th minute of the game when junior forward Marcus Salandy-Defour scored on a right-footed shot into the far corner of the goal.
The Cavaliers scored again late in the game. Sophomore midfield Jake Rozhansky scored after fielding a pass from Jean-Christophe Koffi and dribbling off of Baird with less than three minutes remaining.
Rider tried to mount a last-minute comeback when sophomore forward Elliot Otmani’s shot went wide in the 88th minute, but it was too little, too late, as Virginia won the game 2-0 and eliminated the Broncs from the tournament.
Despite losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it was still a strong year for the program. The team won 14 games this season, one win shy of the single-season school record. Otmani admitted the team wished they could do more, but did not dismiss what the team accomplished this season.
“This season was a great one for us,” Otmani said. “We are glad to have won the conference and having represented Rider and our program. Of course, we wanted more during the NCAA tournament but Virginia was a great team.”
Inverso believes that next year’s team will be one that can replicate the results that this year’s team was able to have.
“We have a good team coming back for next year,” Inverso said. “We’re going to ride this success to another level.”