Cougars dash Lions’ hopes for postseason berth

By Miguel Gonzalez
 Sports Editor

As the sun shined bright through Homecoming festivities, the men’s soccer team lost its chance at making the New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament after a loss against Kean University.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Lions were defeated by Kean, 3-2, in a back-and-forth matchup. The team then bounced back on Sunday, Oct. 22, when they pounced on the College of Saint Vincent Dolphins, 9-0.

Heading into Saturday’s game, both the Lions and Kean urgently needed a win to keep their playoff chances alive. The Cougars were hanging onto fifth place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference standings while the Lions were making a late season surge for sixth place.

Dresch dribbles past a defender. (Miguel Gonzalez / Sports Editor)

In the 26th minute, the Lions struck first when junior midfielder Nick Sample dribbled past opponents and blasted in a shot from 15 yards. The Lions then fought for possession for the rest of the first half as both teams struggled to score.

“We tried to keep steady possession and pacing during the game,” freshman goalkeeper Michael Kayal said.

During halftime, the 1997 men’s soccer team was honored by head coach George Nazario. Twenty years ago, the team reached to the NCAA national men’s soccer tournament final but, ultimately lost to Wheaton College, 3-0. During the tournament, the team defeated conference foes Kean University and Rowan University.

“It’s really an inspiration to see this team,” Kayal said. “They remind us that anything is possible. It’s possible to make it all the way to the national finals. It’s crazy to think that was 20 years ago, I’m still 18.”

Nazario was only in his third year of coaching when he led the Lions to the NCAA finals. He continues to hold the ’97 team in high regard.

“The 1997 team was all about building character and translating it to the field,” Nazario said.

Afterward, President Gitenstein visited to honor the College’s recent Blue and Gold Hall of Fame recipients.   

After the ceremonies, the Lions couldn’t slow down Kean’s offense in the second half.

Kean quickly countered in the second half by pressuring the Lions until they received a penalty kick. In the 50th minute, Kayal jumped to block a header shot. The Lions defense, led by junior defensive duo Nick Provenzano and Nick Zolofra, continued to anchor the team and block shots as the game progressed.   

In the 65th minute, Kean received a penalty kick after the Lions committed a foul in the penalty box. Senior defensive back Alex Noriega tied the match with a hard ground shot. In the following play, Kean scored again when freshman forward Vinceroy Nelson secured a long pass from the midfield and tapped in a shot from the inside penalty box.

With the energy of the home crowd in hand, the Lions fought hard to score an equalizer. In the 76th minute, senior midfielder Peter Dresch sent a cross into the penalty box where freshman midfielder Ryan Vazquez leaped in front of opponents and headed in the game-tying goal.

Ten minutes later, Kean countered when sophomore forward Kamsi Udodi skipped through Lions defenders and smacked a shot straight at Kayal. Kayal bobbled the ball and Udodi reclaimed the ball and put it through the net.

With the team down by 3-2, the Lions scrambled to score another equalizer, but it was too late. 

“Each team had a fair share of chances,” Nazario said. “The goalkeepers from each side had their success and mistakes, but we fought hard to the end.”

On their last home game of the season, the Lions rebounded against the College of Saint Vincent, 9-0. During halftime, the senior squad of forward Michael Kassak, defender Matthew Paulo, midfielder Kevin Nelan and Dresch were honored for their accomplishments. The Lions offense flourished as Vazquez netted in four goals and freshman forward Abdullah Afridi scored twice.

Paulo, Kassak and freshman midfielder Kevin Esteves scored as well.

The Lions will conclude their season in Glassboro on Wednesday, Oct. 25, when they take on Rowan University.