The men’s soccer team took a while to record its first win of the season, but the effort coming in the last couple of weeks has been the polar opposite of those early struggles.
“The first part of the season was a bit of a struggle for the team,” sophomore midfielder Kevin Shaw said. “We were not sure what was going to happen. All of the effort was there, but things just weren’t clicking for us. Enough of the guys had faith in the team though, and we continued to work hard during that rough patch.”
The Lions have not lost in their last eight matches going 6-0-2 in that span – the two ties came in matches that went into double overtime. It’s been about a month since the Lions fell 5-1 to Montclair State University and they seem to be a new team.
The catalyst of the Lions resurgence has been junior forward Ray Nelan. Nelan has scored in six of the Lions eight games and currently has a team-leading seven goals and 14 points this season.
“Ray has been huge for the team the whole season,” Shaw said. “It is really important to have a forward that can put the ball in the net and if he keeps scoring the way he has been we should be able to keep doing really well for the rest of the season.”
Nelan has recorded a goal in the last four straight games as the Lions have defeated William Paterson University, Kean University and New Jersey City University as well as recording a tie versus Muhlenberg College.
The Lions biggest win came against No. 25-ranked William Paterson, who had a chance to tie the game with less than eight minutes left on a penalty kick. Sophomore goalkeeper Adam Friedman was able to stop the shot and the Lions walked away with a 1-0 victory – the lone goal coming off of Nelan’s foot.
The Lions kept up the tempo as they collected another conference victory over Kean University.
The 2-1 victory assured a spot in the New Jersey Athletic Conference playoffs for the Lions. The Lions fell behind early, but were able to tie it as Nelan converted a penalty kick.
Junior Chris Pisano was then set up by freshman midfielder Sean Casey to be the hero as the forward kicked in the winning shot in the 42nd minute.
The next match for the Lions proved to be a little bit more of a challenge as No. 19 Muhlenberg came to Lions Stadium.
The Lions refused to back down though and gritted through until the end of two overtimes to escape with a 2-2 tie.
The Lions returned to NJAC play three days later with a 4-3 win over New Jersey City University. The win improved the Lions record to 6-1-1 in the NJAC and 8-5-3 overall.
The match eerily resembled the match against Kean as Nelan had an early goal and Pisano was able to come through with another game winner.
The game was tied at 3-3 with time starting to get a little tight when Pisano took a pass from junior midfielder Ed Kozic and pushed it just enough to get it past freshman goalkeeper Zakary Azimi in the 92nd minute.
The win gives the Lions a first-round bye in the NJAC post-season tournament and guaranteed that they will host the semi-final round on Nov. 3 at Lions Stadium.
However, before the Lions get started on thinking about the postseason, the Lions will have to take care of Rowan University on Oct. 27.
“We always take one game at a time,” Shaw said. “I think it’s important that we keep playing well so when the playoffs come around we will still have that momentum to carry us through.”