By Chris Buckley - STAFF WRITER
The Hofstra Pride men’s soccer team was defeated by James Madison University on Saturday night at Hofstra Soccer Stadium by a final score of 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 CAA tournament.
It was the Pride’s second consecutive first-round defeat in the CAA tournament, after a road loss to William & Mary in 2013. With the loss, Hofstra finished 10-6-3 overall in 2014.
Entering the match, the Pride were the third seed in the conference tournament behind top-seeded Delaware and second-seeded UNCW. As the third seed, Hofstra earned the right to host one of the tournament’s two quarterfinal matchups, with the top two seeds earning a bye. The James Madison Dukes were the sixth and final seed in the six-team tournament.
A week of practice and preparation resulted in a series of costly injuries for Hofstra. Defenseman and captain Daniel Grundei’s season-ending left knee injury proved to be the most serious, as the Pride struggled with a weak and depleted backline for a full 90 minutes against the Dukes.
Fellow defenseman Rory Murphy was forced to play through a hip injury, while speedy midfielder Meshack Eshun Addy was sidelined with a leg injury.
The first half of Saturday’s match saw Hofstra emerge with little energy against a dynamic JMU front line. With Grundei out, head coach Richard Nuttall looked to Marius Flateboe to fill the void. Unfortunately, with Murphy also hindered by his hip, the depleted defense was consistently spurned over the first 30 minutes. The Dukes dominated possession over Hofstra, amassing a majority of the scoring opportunities.
In the 35th minute, after peppering shot after shot toward Hofstra goalkeeper Patric Pray, the Dukes broke through on forward Josh Grant’s fourth goal of the season. Connor Coward sent a crossing pass from the far side of the pitch that bounced into Hofstra’s 18-yard box and right to Grant’s head, which he used to deflect the skidding ball past Pray for a 1-0 lead.
The teams went to the locker room at halftime with the Dukes having the clear upper hand not just on the scoreboard, but in possession and momentum. Hofstra managed just two shots through the first 45 minutes.
However, the Pride came storming out of the gate at the start of the second half. The blue and gold dominated the first 10 minutes of the half, creating scoring chances on their first four possessions and not allowing a shot to JMU.
After the initial burst of energy from Hofstra, JMU regained control by utilizing speed on the front end. Jamal Umar and Connor Coward wreaked havoc on Hofstra’s midfield and defense, which simply could not take control of the match.
Coward added an insurance goal in the 64th minute for the Dukes, when he outran Hofstra’s Nino Alfonso and Flateboe on a deep pass for an easy breakaway goal. Coward knocked the ball home with his right foot to the lower left corner of the net for a 2-0 JMU lead.
Offensively, the Pride were never able to establish consistent control. Maid Memic, who played his final collegiate game in the loss, managed just one shot on goal after scoring 10 times in the regular season.
That number tied a career high set in 2013. Joseph Holland, who led the conference with nine assists this season, was double teamed all match and was effectively removed from the Hofstra offense with one shot on goal as well.
Hofstra’s best opportunities to score came in the final 15 minutes of the match. In the 77th minute, Rory Murphy found space inside JMU’s 18-yard box. Crashing the net against Dukes goalkeeper Kyle Morton, Murphy fired a blistering left-footed strike from eight yards out, just wide of the far right post, keeping the Pride off the board.
Then, in the 82nd minute, midfielder Mario Ruiz sent a strong right-footed kick through the box. Morton was forced to dive to his left, but the ball narrowly missed the top right corner.
The Pride outshot the Dukes 11-7 in the second half but were still shut out. Morton made all five of his saves for JMU in the final 45 minutes.
“I thought we lost it in the first half,” said Nuttall following the season-ending loss. “We didn’t show enough passion or enthusiasm. I thought we were very flat. Whether we felt we were going to win the game without showing up, I don’t know, but we’re just incredibly disappointed.”
With the win, JMU advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, where they will face the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks in Newark, Del. this Friday at 4:00 p.m.
“I have to give JMU a lot of credit,” said Nuttall about his team’s opponent. “They came out with energy. They’re very athletic. Their pace was difficult to cope with. I think they stifled us in the midfield and they did a really good job of intercepting passes. We just didn’t have that power.”
With just three seniors on this year’s roster, and two of the three seniors having another year of eligibility, the Hofstra Pride men’s soccer team has a lot to be excited about moving forward. While the loss of Maid Memic will be a task to deal with at the start of next season, Nuttall still has plenty of talent and familiar faces to keep his team in good form in 2015.