After defeating New Jersey City University (NJCU) one night before, the Lions men’s soccer team lost its hope for a national title after falling to the defending national-champion Falcons of Messiah College 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 19.
The Lions played the Falcons to a scoreless first half but the second half was a different story. Messiah came out firing, scoring two goals in just seven minutes. Senior midfielder David McClellan knocked one past Lions’ sophomore goalie Matt Kasperavicius to break the game open and give his home fans something to cheer about.
“The first was a lucky goal,” Kasperavicius said. “We cleared it out but it was deflected and the kid was able to put it in.” Five minutes later, sophomore midfielder Patrick Lenehan put the Lions in a 2-0 hole, converting on a rebound that deflected back after a shot from junior forward Dan Wagner. Lenehan would later tack on an insurance goal with an assist from McClellan in the closing minutes of the game.
“The first goal is crucial, especially with an elimination game, and that was the case last night,” head coach George Nazario said. “It was one of those games where whoever scored the first goal would probably win.”
With the win, the Falcons put an end to the Lions’ most successful season since 1997 when they finished as national runner-up. In 1996, the Lions took home the national title. The 3-0 defeat marked the first time the Lions allowed more than two goals in a single game all season and was the team’s first loss in over a month.
The night before, the Lions earned the right to face Messiah by getting past conference rival NJCU 3-2 despite being outshot 22-8. It was the third loss the Gothic Knights suffered to the Lions during the year.
The Lions built a 3-1 lead after junior midfielder Michael Ferber scored 11 minutes into the second half. They were able to hold on despite the brilliant play of senior striker Chris Rosenthal, who scored both goals for the Knights.
“We were moving the ball around well,” Kasperavicius said. “We got a couple of good chances early and put them away.” Rosenthal, this year’s New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Player of the Year, buried a feed from freshman midfielder Jonathan Bilbao to tie the game up at one goal a piece in the first half.
“He was probably one of the most influential players we’ve seen in Division III,” Nazario said. “We wanted to try and eliminate him and play nine on nine all game but he ended up scoring two goals.”
That goal came after an unassisted score by Lions sophomore forward Craig Langan, who has made a living this season scoring against the Knights, with each of his four goals coming against NJCU.
Junior defender Tim Dudek gave the Lions a 2-1 advantage going into the half by putting away a ball after a scramble in front of the Knights’ net. It was his 10th goal of the season.
Rosenthal was credited with his second goal in the second half after his shot hit off the cross bar and then deflected off a Lion defender into the net. With a little under 20 minutes remaining, the Lions were able to outlast the Knights and escape with the win.
The Lions end their impressive season with a 16-3-1 record, which includes both the NJAC regular season crown and the conference tournament title.