Now in a rejuvenated form entering this season’s home stretch, the men’s soccer team rallied for its first two NJAC wins — over New Jersey City University, 3-0, and Ramapo College, 1-0 — while suffering a 3-0 setback on the road to Rutgers-Camden, improbably clawing its way back into the playoff picture.
The Lions (6-8-2, 2-5) have started clicking on both sides of the ball in time to stay in contention and now sit in seventh place with two conference games on the schedule. The top six teams qualify for the post-season.
“It was nice to pick up a pair of wins as our NJAC schedule wraps up,” said sophomore midfielder Nick Costelloe, who converted a penalty kick for the team’s second goal against NJCU. “Although it is late in the season, our team is still coming together, as we are constantly learning more about each others style of play.”
The Lions started turning their fortunes around in their home game with NJCU, as they grabbed a much-needed win at home.
Sophomore midfielder Ryan Caplan opened the scoring in style in the 39th minute, running onto a ball from junior midfielder Jordan Kayal and lobbing the Knights’ goalkeeper for his first of the year. The College had a chance to immediately add to the lead, but a missed penalty kick in the 42nd minute kept the game close at half-time.
A desperate NJCU side, which was also pointless in conference play at the time, pushed hard for an equalizer early when the teams came out in the second half. Yet the defense and junior goalkeeper Maciej Libucha were up to the task, as Libucha made six saves and a strong effort in the back allowed the offense to ice the game late.
“Our back line, held together by Ryan Sullivan, has been solid all year,” Costelloe said. “That being said, our attacking players are very young and are still getting important NJAC experience with each match.”
When the College earned its second penalty in the 73rd minute on a handball which earned NJCU a red card, Costelloe coolly converted it for his team-high fourth goal this year. Sophomore midfielder Sean Etheridge rounded out the scoring four minutes from time.
The Lions’ 1-0 win over Ramapo was less emphatic in terms of the scoreboard, but another hard-earned shutout from Libucha and a penalty kick goal — this time from Etheridge in the 32nd minute — threw the Lions a lifeline in the standings.
Ramapo had come into the game with a 1-4-1 conference record, and along with NJCU, are a combined 1-11-2 this year — they were teams that the Lions needed to beat in order to move up the standings.
“All of our NJAC matches will be tough competitions. I do think that playing some young teams such as Ramapo and NJCU gave us a chance to generate offense and work on attacking,” Costelloe said. “Winning games will always give us confidence to take our game to tougher opponents.”
Sandwiched between the victories was a 3-0 defeat on the road to Rutgers-Camden, as the Lions couldn’t recover from falling behind in the 35th minute. The hosts opened the scoring with a header off a throw-in and a pair of second-half goals sealed the result.
With just two games left in the season, including a game at William Paterson on Saturday, Oct. 25., the College will need to steal a result on the road in order to return to the playoffs.
“Our match against William Patterson will not be easy, especially away from the soccer complex, but we will come out hungry knowing that snatching up two conference wins will give us a chance to make the NJAC tournament,” Costelloe said. “Although we have struggled in the conference so far this season, we are in good spirit, and we will fight for our place in the postseason.”