By Chris Vaccaro
The run that began in the final weeks of the regular season, normally a time when the Pride men's soccer team falters and comes up just short of the playoffs, finally ended this past week in a 4-0 defeat to No. 3 University of Maryland Terrapins at Ludwig Field in College Park, MD, in the second round of the NCAA College Cup.
After clinching the fifth seed in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament, the Pride (12-9-1) steamrolled through a stockpile of hefty opponents and qualified for the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament for the first time since 1968 when it competed in the Small College Division.
The journey began with the Pride needing a victory at home against nationally ranked James Madison University on Oct. 31. After earning a 2-1 win in that contest, the Pride took then turned attention to Drexel and won 2-0, securing a berth to the CAA Tournament for the first time since entering the conference. In the CAA Tournament the Pride beat the University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2-0, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1-0, and Old Dominion University, 1-0, in the Final.
Already with five consecutive wins, the Pride set out to beat Seton Hall University in the first round of the College Cup and faired well in a 2-1 victory.
All the momentum was needed for any luck in the second round match-up against the national powerhouse Terrapins (16-5-1).
The first half of the contest saw little action, as both teams were held scoreless in their efforts of defensive concentration.
"They're an excellent team with very good dynamics," coach Richard Nuttall said. "They're known for good defense inside the box and explosive speed, so we knew it was going to be tough."
Senior Michael Hermann had the Pride's best scoring opportunity in the first when he missed just wide from the top of the penalty area.
It wasn't long before the Terrapins started what was an eventful first 15 minutes of the second half.
Terrapins' midfielder Domenic Mediate scored after a dash to the far post off after an 18-yard cross from junior Chris Lancos.
Just 2:15 later Mediate capitalized from 25 yards out when Pride goalie Matthias Gumbrecht came out of the box to make a save, but was caught off guard leaving an open shot, making the score, 2-0.
About three minutes after two quick goals, the Terps managed to force a break away and freshman Stephen King made the score, 3-0.
The final goal also came on an odd man and was scored by junior Jason Garey, leaving the Pride in a 4-0 hole.
Junior forward Michel Todd missed a one-timer from 10 yards, but still wouldn't have gotten the Pride back in the game if scored. The Terrapins defense was overwhelming, not allowing many chances at all for the duration of the game.
The Pride defense on the other hand did not play up to par and seemed to lag along in the later half of the game.
"We struggled defensively," Nuttall said. "Travel, fatigue and a long season were two reasons for this."
Gumbrecht made four saves while Terps goalie Noah Palmer made two in his shutout performance. The Terrapins out-shot the Pride, 19-7, and had an 8-2 edge in corner kicks.
The Terps beat No. 14 Creighton in the round of 16 and advanced to the quarterfinals where they'll face No. 11 St. John's University.
As for the Pride, this season, and more importantly this group of players, have set the standard for where the men's soccer program is headed. Next season the squad lost six players, yet returns an awfully talented roster with a valuable season of experience gained this year.
"Although I've coached many teams at Hofstra, this one stands as one of the top," Nuttall said when asked if this was the best Pride team. "This team fought hard and came together most at the end of the season."
While still not pleased with losing anytime, the Pride can be sure that the wins it earned against nationally ranked opponents this year, and the loss to a team like Maryland will spark some positive emotions in the team next season, leaving them hungry for more.
With the recruiting process just about over and the winter beginning, the Pride men's soccer program will take this season and use it to its advantage next year.
"This team has set the foundation for the future," Nuttall said.