The Fordham men’s soccer team clinched its second-straight Atlantic 10 Championship berth this weekend after tying the University of Dayton 1-1 on Halloween.
The tie brings Fordham’s overall record to 6-6-2 and 4-2-1 in conference games – good for fifth place in the standings. Dayton holds onto its top spot in the standings at 10-4-3 overall and 5-0-2 in conference play.
The A-10 berth came on a fitting evening, as the Rams also celebrated Senior Night.
Prior to the start of the game, the team honored its seven seniors for their four-year dedication to the program. Kyle Bitterman, Ryan Cupolo, Tom Granot, Greg McNamara, Tomas Penfold, Ryan Walsh and red-shirt senior Andres Penfold each received a framed photograph of their playing time in a Fordham jersey.
Even though Fordham had several starting defenders out due to injury, other players took their place and held Dayton’s explosive offense to only one goal.
“We had a lot of guys step up and have really great performances,” Cupolo, the team’s captain, said. “That’s exactly what we needed, [and] it’s great to see that we have the depth to be able to do that.”
Fordham got its goal in the sixth minute on a brilliant combination play. Walsh broke up a pass between Dayton defenders near the top of the eighteen. He then slid the ball through to an oncoming Janos Loebe. The freshman skillfully touched the ball through another Dayton defender’s legs and past goalkeeper Justin Saliba for his fifth goal of the season, putting the Rams up 1-0.
“We high-pressed, and [Janos] took a great touch and slipped it in right past the keeper,” Walsh said. “It felt great to contribute in my last game here on our home field.”
Fordham contained the Flyers’ offense for the majority of the game, with the defense putting on a particularly spectacular performance.
Of the team’s starting defensive line, Matthew Lewis was the only usual starter who was able to play. McNamara and sophomores Kyle Losi, Vincenzo Zuccala and Patrick Thees all stepped up and were relentless in catching up to Dayton’s dynamic center midfielders and speedy forwards.
Freshman keeper Dan Miklos – taking the place of the recently concussed Rashid Nuhu – saw his fair share of action throughout the game. The Flyers let off a total of 31 shots to Fordham’s 9, with the young goalie grabbing seven total saves.
“I just did my part for the team,” Miklos said. “I was just thinking ‘I’m not going to let this guy score’ and ‘I have to do anything I can to keep the ball out of the goal.’”
These players picked up the intensity level in a critical game. With Nuhu, sophomore Chris Bazzinni, junior Andy Hickey and graduate student Lars Zimmerman all out, these players’ outstanding performances are what held Fordham in the game.
Though the defense was rock solid for nearly 90 minutes, Dayton broke through in the 81st minute. The Flyers’ Anthony Keene took a corner kick from the right side that Maik Schoonderwoerd flicked on. Lala Abubakar collected the ball and sent it past Miklos from six yards out to tie the game at one a piece.
“It was disappointing that we conceded late,” Cupolo admitted. But the Rams did not waver after the goal and were steadfast on defense for the remainder of the game and into the two 10 minute overtime periods.
Dayton’s best opportunity came just three minutes into the first overtime period, when Amas Amankona had a breakaway right to goal. Miklos smartly came out and dove at the ball to block the shot attempt, keeping the score knotted at zero.
The game ended in a tie minutes later, with both teams clinching spots in the A-10 Championship.
Though the game did not end in the result Fordham wanted, it was the epitome of a team effort. Every player that saw time on the field contributed and helped quell Dayton’s strong attack.
“It was awesome,” McNamara said. “It was a huge game for us and it was good to see a lot of guys who hadn’t played a ton of minutes get out there and hold off a team as good as Dayton was.”
The Rams are next in action when they travel to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on Nov. 7th to take on the Minutemen. It will be the last game of the season before the A-10 Championship begins on Nov. 12 in Fairfax, Virginia.
In last year’s conference tournament, the Rams shocked the Atlantic 10. As the sixth team to qualify for the postseason, the Rams took down third-seeded VCU on penalty kicks and second-seeded Saint Louis 2-1 on consecutive days before defeating top-seeded Rhode Island 1-0. The team went to the NCAA Tournament and fell to 20th ranked Dartmouth 2-1.