By Stephen Neukam and Brandon Scalea
The men’s soccer team clinched a berth in the MAAC Tournament with a 2-1 win against Iona and a 0-0 draw with Marist. Rider is still in contention to be the No. 1 seed.
It was the play of the Aguinaga brothers, senior forward Jose and freshman defender Sergio, which propelled the Broncs to their win over Iona. Freshman forward Pablo DeCastro put Rider ahead in the 38th minute, heading the ball low past the keeper, off an assist from junior midfielder Santiago Garcia Castro.
Iona equalized later in the second half, scoring off of a header from senior defender Joshua Calderon in the 57th minute. The Aguinaga brothers flashed their heroics less than 20 minutes later, with Jose finishing off a cross from Sergio for the game-winning goal.
Jose Aguinaga, who was voted the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, continues to validate that honor. He ranks sixth in the nation in assists (9), and also netted his third goal of the season, the game winner against Iona.
He and his fellow seniors: keeper David Pastuna, forward Elliot Otmani and defender Todd Oakley, were honored Saturday night during their final home match of the season. A season-high home attendance of 1,052 gathered to watch Rider take on Marist. The Red Foxes, who needed a win to stay alive in the playoff race, were also looking to play spoiler to Rider’s search for supremacy atop the MAAC.
“I remember my freshman year that we would be lucky if we got 50 fans out there,” Pastuna said. “And now we see the whole field packed. It’s awesome.”
The game was played physically, with a combined total of 47 fouls and six yellow cards. The game also saw a lot of action in front of each goal, with 24 shots accumulated between the two teams.
Ultimately, the keepers proved up to the challenge of each attack, with Pastuna and Marist senior Mark Rajovic both keeping a shutout.
Aguinaga nearly played hero again on his senior night, but his free kick in the 67th minute hit the post of the goal. The game would continue into double overtime, with each team unable to find the winner.
Pastuna was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season for his .875 save percentage against Iona and Marist.
Head Coach Charlie Inverso pointed out the seniors’ accomplishments on the field as well as off.
“They had a four-year record of 47-20-5. They won two MAAC Championships and went to two NCAA Tournaments. They had a combined GPA of 3.3, and all four were MAAC All-Academic Team,” said Inverso.
The Broncs will travel to Fairfield on Nov. 1 for a 7 p.m. game against the Stags, who are tied atop the MAAC with Rider. This game will decide the regular-season champion and who will host the MAAC Tournament.
“What we have been saying is that we need to treat this upcoming game as a championship final,” Pastuna said, “because that’s how high the stakes are.”
Last year, the Broncs had a chance to clinch the first seed on the last day of the regular season, but it was ultimately Quinnipiac that took the spot.
After beating Siena in the semifinal — a game in which Rider trailed and had to eventually win in penalty kicks — the Broncs got a chance for revenge against the home Bobcats in the conference title game.
Rider dominated, 3-1, to clinch the MAAC Championship and earn a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Broncs headed to Vermont for the first-round matchup, where they were beaten, 4-0.
In 2015, the team headed into the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed and definitely flew under the radar, especially with nationally-ranked Monmouth on top of the MAAC.
In the nationally-televised MAAC Championship game in Orlando, Florida, the Broncs upset the No. 22 Hawks, 3-2, to win their first conference title in nearly two decades.
The win set up a meeting with defending national champion Virginia in the first round of the NCAAs. Rider played hard, but fell, 2-0.
Inverso said in a Sept. 11 interview that his goal this year was not only to win the MAAC, but an NCAA Tournament game.