By Thomas Regan
After the men’s soccer team completed the regular season, tied for second in the nation in goals-per-game and secured its first winning season in 16 years, Rider hosted Fairfield for the first round of the MAAC playoffs on Nov. 8. However, the high-scoring offense faltered in front of its boisterous home crowd, as it fell to the Stags 1-0.
Despite the poor result, senior forward Ryan Walsh, who played his final game as a Bronc, was proud of his team’s performance and the support the team received from the fans.
“No regrets at all,” Walsh said. “We played hard and had fun. The crowd was great and full of energy. It was a great night for Rider soccer and it’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t win. Soccer is a funny game; the only aspect that matters is the scoreboard, and they were able to hit a great shot from way out. I don’t recall them having too many other good scoring opportunities.”
From the start of the contest, Rider and Fairfield (8-4-6, 4-2-4 MAAC) attempted to establish a physical game, totaling five fouls — three against the Stags and two against the Broncs — in the opening 14 minutes. It wasn’t until the 15th minute that Fairfield took the first shot of the game, which resulted in consecutive corner kicks to pressure Rider (9-7-2, 6-4 MAAC) and momentarily quiet the crowd.
Not allowing the rocky start to faze them, the Broncs turned the tables, forcing a corner kick in the 24th minute before freshman forward Jose Aguinaga took the first Rider shot of the game. Although the shot was blocked, it netted another corner chance. Despite failing to immediately capitalize on the opportunity, the Broncs kept the ball in enemy territory for a couple minutes before taking a 25th-minute shot off the foot of junior forward Florian Valot.
The hard-fought first half ended with Rider outshooting Fairfield 5-4 and tempers flaring.
However, it wasn’t until the second half that the tension between the teams finally came to a head. The Broncs and the Stags traded a pair of vicious slide tackles, one of which resulted in a yellow card on Rider sophomore back Warren Holmes. Just moments later, Fairfield senior forward Jordan Ayris buried a shot from long range into the upper left corner of the goal in the 53rd minute, sucking the life out of the Bronc crowd.
Rider would never recover once that goal gave the Stags the 1-0 advantage. After taking seven shots for the remainder of the game, none of which found the back of the net, the Broncs were eliminated from the playoffs.
Walsh explained that the Broncs did an outstanding job creating opportunities, but came up empty.
“To put it simply, we weren’t able to find the back of the net,” Walsh said. “We were able to move the ball well and create scoring chances, but we couldn’t finish them, which is shocking because we are a very good offensive team. We had a couple of unlucky bounces and shots off the post that just didn’t go our way.”
Head Coach Charlie Inverso, who brought the men’s soccer team back to the postseason, was frustrated with the outcome of the contest, but has no doubt that his team played their hearts out.
“We didn’t panic, we kept creating those chances and listen, Fairfield did what they had to do, but for me, this isn’t a game where you sit back,” Inverso said. “Basically that’s what they tried to do the whole game, they played defense and they had one shot on goal, and it was a great shot, credit to the kid. But for me, I’ll take this team and the way they played and the way it’s supposed to be played over and over again.”
Even with the 1-0 defeat, Inverso knows his team will be one that will remain competitive in the future.
“This was an outstanding season for us and I think we’re just going to keep getting better,” Inverso said.