Punching above its weight against a nationally-ranked team for the second time this season, the men’s soccer team emphatically proved it means business this year in NJAC play with a last-gasp 2-1 win over No. 17 Montclair State University, despite suffering a 2-1 defeat at Richard Stockton College.
Both goals for the Lions (7-2-1, 2-1) against a physical MSU side came in the final 15 minutes of the game, including a dramatic game-winner from freshman midfielder Nick Costelloe in the 86th minute.
Senior forward Kevin Shaw stole the ball before breaking into the box on the right side, and as the defense closed down on him, Shaw pushed a tantalizing ball across the box that Costelloe slotted under the Red Hawks’ diving goalkeeper.
“When Shaw broke free late in the game, I was really expecting a shot from him, but I wanted to move into the space to get the ball just in case,” Costelloe said. “As it turns out, he split the two defenders with a pass to me. When I saw it get through the defenders, I just made sure to stay over the ball and hit it back to where it came from, as coach always encourages.”
The Red Hawks’ goalkeeper was also in position for a shot from Shaw and couldn’t switch to Costelloe’s side in time, giving the crowd at the soccer complex reason to celebrate.
“It was a poor shot in my opinion, but it managed to get by the keeper,” Costelloe said. “The only thing left to do was celebrate as a team on the field. I was just grateful that Shaw was able to find me with the pass.”
Shaw had five shots on target and scored a goal of his own in the 76th minute, finishing off a fluid counter attack that ended with Shaw deflecting the ball into the net from several yards out for a 1-0 lead.
“Shaw had another fantastic game with a goal and an assist,” Costelloe said. “Because he is our main target guy up top, the team agreed that he should take a shot anytime he gets a chance — rightly so because of his great finishing skills. Coach gives him a free pass to be selfish around the box, and he makes it count by finishing constantly.”
Shaw’s 12th goal of the year didn’t hold up for long, as the Red Hawks equalized in the 86th minute on a well-executed set piece that continued the Lions’ trend of conceding late.
“I think that an important thing for us to work on is closing out a game,” Costelloe said. “We have been in situations where we are winning late in a game and wind up conceding late goals. This time we got away with giving up yet another late goal and we are just happy to get the win and look forward to our next big game.”
All of the game’s goals were late, but part of how the Lions were able to ground the Red Hawks was by establishing positive play early on in the game.
“We settled into the game nicely and created some chances early. I think establishing ourselves early was a huge part of the victory,” Costelloe said. “After the loss against Stockton we knew that we needed to be prepared for another hard game against a skilled opponent (in) MSU.”
The Lions generated a number of quality chances in the first half, including an open look from inside the six-yard box that came after a shot from senior forward Kevin Shaw bounced off the crossbar and the line, but went into the locker room at half-time with the score at 0-0.
But the Lions, who forced six saves to MSU’s five, kept the same game plan in the second half, and it eventually paid off.
“As for the two goals, we were told constantly by (head coach George Nazario) that we just have to play our game and chances will come,” Costelloe said. “Late in the game, even though we were dealing with a lot of defensive pressure, we were able to counter-attack and create chances. (Senior midfielder) Sean Casey had another great cross that created our first goal. Lucky for us, we finished the few chances we had late in the game.”
The mid-week game at the Ospreys was a different story, as the Lions came out flat en route to their first regulation loss and were just 44 seconds away from being held scoreless for the first time this year.
“It was very difficult to play a quality team like Stockton away from home,” Costelloe said. “To be completely honest, Stockton just came out fighting harder than us in the first 20 minutes. Their initial energy surge was enough to get them a goal, but when things settled down, we played much better.”
Richard Stockton capitalized on their early play by taking the lead in the 20th minute after catching the Lions on the break and added a goal in the 78th minute on a loose ball.
That ended up being the game-winner, after sophomore forward Greg Perri scored a last-minute consolation goal for the College
It was not all negative for the Lions, who took a few lessons away from a game in which they uncharacteristically missed their chances.
“We created some dangerous opportunities and probably should have scored at least one goal in the first half to even it up,” Costelloe said. “One thing this game taught us is that we have to come out playing hard or we will get punished.”
The Lions continue NJAC play this week with a home game against Rutgers-Camden, before travelling to Rutgers-Newark.