By Rob Rose
Despite 335 days between the last time the teams met, the result was the same for the men’s soccer team against Fairfield. Rider lost on an own goal in the 2017 MAAC Championship game against Fairfield, 1-0, and suffered the same fate in a 3-2 defeat on Oct. 13.
“There’s no feel-good stories after this,” said Head Coach Charlie Inverso. “We’ve got to go out and win. We’ve put ourselves in a bad situation.”
The Broncs and Stags played a pair of pivotal matches down the stretch last season. The sides battled on Nov. 1, 2017 at Fairfield in a contest that decided which team would receive home-field advantage in the conference tournament set to begin the following week.
The MAAC’s playoff format is set up to give the No. 1 seed a home-field advantage throughout the conference tournament and a semifinal home match to the No. 2 seed.
Both teams entered the 2017 regular season finale with a 6-1-2 record in the MAAC, knowing the winner would receive the conference’s top seed.
Fairfield won the contest, 3-0, over a Rider team depleted by injuries and yellow card caution concerns. After a player receives their fifth yellow card, they are required to miss the next match.
When the teams met 11 days later in the championship game, although the Broncs were at full strength, it was the Stags who emerged victorious. An own goal in the 71st minute decided the contest as the ball deflected off junior back Sylvain Coco’s head and into the net.
Coco was a factor in this season’s match as well, despite not being on the field. He and junior back Arthur Herpreck, Rider’s two starting center backs, were unable to play due to yellow card accumulations.
“I don’t think with those two guys in there, those goals are being scored,” said Inverso. “But, that’s on them, it’s not like they’re out because of injuries. We’ve got to be accountable, there’s no excuse for that.”
Coco received his fifth yellow card of the season against Manhattan on Oct. 10 while Herpreck received two yellow cards during the same contest and was sent off with a red card, resulting in him not being available for the following match.
Missing the pair of junior center backs, Rider let an early 2-0 lead slip away in the second half. Fairfield picked up goals in the 60th and 67th minutes to tie the game before an own goal in 84th minute gave them a 3-2 victory in the championship rematch.
The loss had a little extra sting for the Broncs, who had revenge on their minds after last season’s games.
“In the locker room, we were really aggressive,” said junior back Emmanuel Kouma. “We knew [Fairfield] beat us in the regular-season final and the MAAC final, so we came to the field ready to beat them at home.”
The Broncs jumped out to a two-goal lead with scores 10 minutes apart by sophomore forward Pablo DeCastro and graduate student forward Elliott Otmani.
DeCastro opened the scoring just before halftime by getting on the end of a left-footed cross from Otmani for his fourth goal of the season.
Four minutes into the second half, Otmani finished a ball flicked toward him by sophomore midfielder Taner Bay with his left foot. The goal was Otmani’s team-leading fifth of the season.
After starting conference play on a three-game winning streak, Rider lost consecutive MAAC games, including a 1-0 loss at Manhattan on Oct. 10. After Herpreck was sent off in the 77th minute for his second yellow card, the Broncs were forced to play down a man.
In the first minute of overtime, the Jaspers’ Milan Devuyst scored off a rebound to win the game. After the losses to Manhattan and Fairfield, Rider had allowed the game-winning goal in six of its seven losses this season during the final 10 minutes or in overtime.
With five games left in the season, Rider is tied at fourth in the MAAC with Manhattan. The top six teams in the conference reach the MAAC Tournament and the Broncs are confident they can get back on track.
“We know what we can do,” said Kouma. “We all know what we have to do and trust me, we’re going to win this.”
The Broncs’ next two matches are on the road before returning home. Rider plays at Quinnipiac on Oct. 17 and at Monmouth on Oct. 20.
Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider men’s soccer.