By Rob Rose
In a matchup with then last-place Niagara on Oct. 3, the men’s soccer team needed a pair of second-half goals to extend its winning streak to three games in a 2-1 victory.
“It was a really bad first half, very lackadaisical,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso. “We challenged them at halftime. Got to give the assistant coaches credit for really good suggestions for adjustments that we made in the second half. We played good, attacking soccer.”
Graduate student forward Elliott Otmani finished the game-winning goal in the 62nd minute off a pass from sophomore midfielder Mathis Catanzaro. Otmani received the ball streaking down the left side of the field before cutting inside and setting up a right-footed blast into the right corner of the net.
Otmani has scored in each of Rider’s MAAC wins this season and his three-game streak with a goal made him the team leader with four goals this season.
After scoring only two goals in their first seven games, the Broncs have found the back of the net seven times in three conference games.
The game-tying goal came from sophomore forward Pablo DeCastro in the 54th minute. Sophomore back Sergio Aguinaga played a ball down the right side that was settled by junior back Emmanuel Kouma. The back picked out DeCastro in front of the net and, with a defender draped all over him, settled the ball with one touch and unleashed a strike into the far-left corner of the net.
“It was a really nice goal,” said DeCastro. “That particular move is very useful for strikers like me to get rid of the defender and have a good angle of the shot.”
For DeCastro, it was his third goal of the season. He is nearly halfway to reaching the eight goals he finished in his freshman season, which earned him All-MAAC Second Team and All-MAAC Rookie Team honors.
After not recording a point previously in his career, Kouma had an assist in the last two games for Rider.
The Broncs dominated the other offensive categories. They fired 19 shots at the Purple Eagles’ net, compared to Niagara’s five and earned nine corners while Niagara failed to take a corner kick.
After struggling mightily during nonconference play, Rider had found its offensive groove through three MAAC games. Its three-game winning streak to open MAAC play has the team in a four-way tie for first place in the conference with Fairfield, Quinnipiac and Marist at nine points.
“I think the difference has been that we didn’t know how to polish the small details,” said DeCastro. “Since the the beginning of conference [play,] we have known how to deal with them successfully.”
Last season, the Broncs opened conference play with five-straight wins that were part of a seven-game win streak. That winning streak propelled the team to a third-consecutive MAAC Championship appearance.
As the Broncs continue MAAC play, their focus is not on their recent success but finding their way back to the conference championship game.
“We have to look forward to get the victory in the next games,” said DeCastro. “If we continue working together and trusting each other, we will have the chance to win the championship.”
Rider’s next match is on the road against Manhattan on Oct. 10 before returning home for a showdown with Fairfield, the team who defeated Rider in the 2017 MAAC Championship game.
The Broncs welcome the Stags to Ben Cohen Field on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN3.
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