By Trey Wright
Rider men’s soccer made it all the way to the MAAC Championship after an up and down season filled with drama. The Broncs had some double overtime magic in their semi finals matchup against Fairfield, winning 2-1. Despite pulling together as a team, the Broncs couldn’t get it done in the finals, falling in penalty kicks to Marist 2-2, (5-3).
Overtime survival: Rider books a trip to the finals
After upsetting Sienna a few days prior, Rider came into the semifinal round of the MAAC playoffs with the best ace you can have: home-field advantage. Ben Cohen Field was packed to the brim as the Broncs defeated no. 6 ranked Fairfield in a thrilling double overtime finish at 2-1.
It was Fairfield that found the back of the net first in the 34th minute, off of a set piece, in which graduate student goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois hit his head on the goalpost, leaving the Broncs faithful to see if the rock of the goaltending unit was okay.
With an eruption from the crowd, Gatinois was able to get up under his own power and stay in the game.
This ended up being crucial for the Broncs, as Gatinois played a substantial role in keeping the Broncs in the game.
Gatinois staying in the game was one of two factors that helped the Broncs. The other? A red card was dealt to a Fairfield player at the 60 minute mark.
“When you have something like that, there’s a chance it’s gonna be equalized,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso. “We had a huge advantage, and wanted to put something away while we had the chance.”
Seven minutes later, senior midfielder Guillermo Pavia Vidal, caused the Broncs Zoo to roar in excitement as he blasted a shot from just outside the 18 to even things up in the 67th minute.
“It was crazy, that was the first time I actually touched after I came off. I’m looking at the goal, and the goal went in,” Vidal said with a shrug and a chuckle.
Inverso said, “I say this after every game, the staff, the assistant coaches were amazing today. The adjustments they made in the game were really, really great. Throwing [Guillermo] in and the next thing you know, he scores.”
A tight slugfest commenced, with both teams testing each other’s goaltenders, the game remaining deadlocked in 85th minute when a red card was dealt to freshman midfielder Jack McGeechan evened the player count at 10.
90 minutes were not enough for this battle for a spot in the championship, and 100 minutes were not enough either, with the score still reading 1-1 going into the second overtime.
It looked as if the Broncs may be heading into a shootout when Vidal collected the ball off of another corner kick, and set up graduate student midfielder Taner Bay, who booted Rider to victory in the 109th minute, causing Ben Cohen Field explode.
“I’ve gotta give all credit to Guillermo finding me there in that spot,” Bay said afterward. “I just turned and hit it. We’re ready to go on and play another game.”
Inverso said, “Listen, where this team has come from in about a month and a half is amazing. We were in a free fall. These guys didn’t like each other too much. It all turned around. Everybody stopped being self-centered and now they love each other. And that’s the best thing.”
The Broncs punched their way to a finals, taking on the Marist Red Foxes, who had defeated Monmouth with a late 80th-minute goal to set up the MAAC Men’s Soccer Final.
Going The Distance: Penalty Kick Heartache
After the game against Stony Brook on Sep. 14, graduate student defender Ty Moore described the season thus far as a “rollercoaster.” One more loop was left as the Broncs took on the Marist Red Foxes in the MAAC Men’s Soccer Championship Game.
Rider was looking for its first MAAC title since 2018, while Marist was looking for its first championship in 16 years.
It was a rough start for the Broncs, going down by two goals within the first 22 minutes of the match.
One player on the Broncs who showed no quit was Gatinois, and he kept Rider in the game with more than his fair share of impressive saves.
Moore was able to take advantage of a poor clearance by the Red Foxes in the 28th minute and put the ball in the net to cut the deficit in half.
“Down 2-0, Gato made a great save, and they gifted us a goal, but I knew we weren’t going to quit,” said Inverso.
The Broncs took the momentum into the second half, with Bay once again bringing the magic, crossing a ball that deflected off of a Marist defender and into the back of the net.
“The chances on goal, the goals, the saves and the crowd environment were insane,” said Inverso.
Just like in the prior game against Fairfield, it became a deadlocked battle, with Gatinois making highlight-reel worthy save upon save.
“Gato was incredible yesterday,” said Inverso. “He showed real class and character.”
Twenty minutes of overtime were not enough for this classic, which went into penalty kicks to decide who would move on to the NCAA tournament.
Rider made three of their four shots, while Marist made all five, crowning themselves as MAAC champions for 2021.
“In 35 years of coaching, yesterday was one of the greatest games I have ever been involved with,” Inverso said. “This team dealt with so many setbacks and so much adversity including losing Pablo de Castro who was one of the all-time leading scorers in Rider history.”
Inverso continued, “We were a pretty dysfunctional group for the first month and a half but evolved into a family along the way. The fight they showed today was an amazing testament to their commitment to each other.”
The Broncs finished up the fall 2021 season within inches of a MAAC Championship, a record of 10-7-3, but most importantly, they left it all out on the field.