By Brandon Scalea
The men’s soccer team knocked off first-place Quinnipiac on Oct. 29.
A Quinnipiac victory would have all but sealed the league title. Instead, Rider (11-3-2, 6-1-2 MAAC) persevered and cruised to a 3-1 win in Hamden, Connecticut.
Once again, junior forward Jose Aguinaga made the difference with a penalty kick goal, netting the ultimate game-winner in the second half. It was the fourth penalty kick goal out of four tries that Aguinaga has scored this season.
Senior back Rob Nardiello said the team did a good job of stepping up in arguably its biggest game of the season to date.
“These are the types of games in which our team thrives,” he said. “It was huge for us to get this win, and it felt even better that it came in a game where we battled from start to finish. This puts a little bit more pressure on Quinnipiac now.”
Rider didn’t get off to a good start, though. In just the eighth minute, Rashawn Dally registered the first shot of the game for Quinnipiac (11-6, 7-2 MAAC), and it found the back of the net. Dally went in on senior goalkeeper Ryan Baird and put it home unassisted.
After the early setback, the Broncs responded quickly. In the 15th minute, Rider was granted a free kick. The initial shot was misplayed by the Bobcat defense right to the foot of Nardiello, who scored to tie the game at one.
It was Nardiello’s third goal of the season after missing five games because of an injury. He was handed MAAC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance in the game.
“It’s great to be back out there helping my team again,” Nardiello said. “For me, the priority is the team and making sure we get the win. But, of course, it’s always nice to contribute.”
The goal seemed to ignite Rider, as it dominated possession for the remainder of the first half. With nine minutes left before halftime, the Broncs broke through again. Aguinaga tried to get a shot off, but was taken down by Quinnipiac’s defender Conor McCoy. A yellow card on the play granted Aguinaga yet another penalty kick, and he buried it to give the team a 2-1 lead.
The Broncs outshot the Bobcats in the half, 10-6.
In the second half, Rider successfully held onto the lead, and the team did it with some added insurance. In the 83rd minute, freshman back Arthur Herpreck notched his second goal of the season and it was a big one for the home team, giving it a 3-1 lead it would never relinquish. Freshman forward Clement Bourret picked up the lone assist.
The win gave Rider its fifth in six games. For the second consecutive year, the team went 6-1-1 in the month of October.
The Broncs will wrap up the regular season on Nov. 2 in a 2 p.m. game against St. Peter’s at Ben Cohen Field. At halftime, students will have an opportunity to attempt penalty kicks on University President Gregory Dell’Omo.
With a win, Rider would clinch a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament and at least a second-place finish. To take the league title, the Broncs need a win and a Quinnipiac tie or loss in its final game. The first seed hosts the tournament.
Last year, the Broncs entered the MAACs as the No. 2 seed and ultimately defeated nationally ranked Monmouth in the tournament final.
To repeat as MAAC champions and get another shot at the NCAA Tournament, Nardiello thinks the team just needs to stick with the plan.
“I suppose it will be a little tougher since we’re the defending champs,” he said. “We are the team to beat. But to win it all again, we need to play our style of soccer and continue working together. If we host the tournament, that would be a huge advantage for us.”