by PETE JANNY, Asst. Sports Editor
The Manhattan College men’s soccer team returned to the pitch this past Saturday for a game against the Niagara Purple Eagles that had far greater implications than most regular season games. Sitting in sixth place in the standings with two games left in the regular season, the Jaspers were in dire need of a win to lock up one of six spots in the impending MAAC tournament. This game against Niagara came on the heels of just one of many heartbreaking losses the team suffered this year when they fell to first-place Saint Peter’s in double overtime earlier in the week. Despite how badly that loss hurt, the team’s fate was still going to boil down to their own results over the last two games with one win seemingly enough to clinch. With that said, there was no other place the team would’ve preferred clinching a spot than at home in front of their own fans with Saturday’s game providing a chance to do just that.
Unsurprisingly, the game was a dog fight with both teams playing hard for the opportunity to play past the regular season. With neither side able to establish any real offensive cohesion throughout the game, it felt like the eventual winner was most likely going to be the team who caught the big break at the right time. Despite an underwhelming second half performance overall, Manhattan was the team who caught the big break with junior Brandon Joseph-Baudi netting the game-winner in the 85th minute off a set-piece feed that effectively sealed the victory. The last five minutes featured more of the same from Niagara with the visitors going down rather easily while Manhattan cruised to victory.
Like most Manhattan games, the first half of this affair was characterized by strong defense and minimal offense. In fact, there was barely even a single sequence over the first 45 minutes that developed into a serious threat for either side. Simply put, both teams lacked the offensive ingenuity and continuity needed to breakdown the opposing defense.
The first chance of the afternoon belonged to Niagara when in the fourth minute junior Luca Pacheco laced a free kick from outside the box that missed wide left. The likelihood of it going in was low due to the significant distance from the spot of the kick to the goal, but Pacheco did the most he could with what would’ve been an electric finish. The Purple Eagles would fail to create a better chance than that one for the remainder of the half.
On the other side of the field, Manhattan turned to seniors Noah Ammisah and Felipe Clavijo to try to jumpstart the offense.
With the offense still trying to find a feel for the game, Ammisah produced his team’s first shot in the 11th minute when his one-time attempt from the top of the box off a pass from the right side sailed well over the net. Ammisah’s offensive aggression would persist with the senior striker posing a larger threat in the 16th minute when he single-handedly initiated a counter attack that saw him dribble several yards down the field before unleashing a shot just inside the box on the right side that was scooped up by the Niagara goalie. Clavijo then made his presence felt in the 21st minute with volley attempt in the box that soared over the net. Three minutes later, Clavijo tried to make up for his previous miss by testing the goalie with a shot on goal that was easily handled by the keeper.
With the Purple Eagles still stagnant, Manhattan continued to show more signs of wanting to break through as the half wore on. Instead of forcing things, the game started to slow down for the Jaspers in which the team started to find more success on the passing front.
With 17 minutes left in the half, senior Angee Komano mustered a header attempt that just like most of the other Manhattan chances was off target. In the 33rd minute, eventual hero Brandon Joseph-Baudi checked in for the Jaspers and wasted no time making an impact. Joseph-Baudi, who has emerged as an offensive force for Manhattan late in the season, was the recipient of a nice little pass from Clavijo at the top of the box that set the junior striker up with a one-time shot that sailed wide of the net. Despite the inaccuracy, the play typified the increased offensive aggression that Joseph-Baudi has showed late in the season.
At the end of the first half, Manhattan held a 7-4 advantage in shots and were the better side despite not playing nearly their best soccer. Although the second half featured some nice moments from both sides, there was still more to be desired.
Five minutes into the second half, Manhattan senior Milan Devuyst found daylight just outside the box and tried his luck with a shot that had too much power on it and thus went over the net. This play marked the start of an uninspiring 30-minute stretch of play from the Manhattan offense in which the team was only able to record one shot. That shot came in the 73rd minute off the foot of Joseph-Baudi on a play in which he found some open space on the left side that led to a shot on target that was blocked by the keeper. If not for the unfavorable angle at which Joseph-Baudi shot from, the chance would’ve been even more dangerous.
While Manhattan regressed, Niagara found some life. Over the 30-minute stretch in which Manhattan struggled, the Purple Eagles were more active than at any point before, accumulating six shots. Luckily, the Jaspers bounced back in time for the pivotal stretch run of the game.
In the 79th minute, Joseph Kroma helped stopped the bleeding for Manhattan with an explosive strike from the left side of the box off a pretty feed from Joseph-Baudi. Manhattan then used this newfound momentum to muster the game’s only goal of the game. In the 85th minute, Manhattan caught Niagara sleeping when senior fullback Callum Carlsey wasted no time sending a cross into the box off a free-kick from the left side that hit Joseph-Baudi in stride for the goal. While Manhattan proceeded to celebrate, the Purple Eagles took to arguing claiming that Carlsey did not wait until the referee’s whistle to take the kick. The ensuing minutes were characterized by a stream of invective directed at the referees for their purported negligence on the play. By the time normalcy was restored, Niagara had been assessed two red cards for arguing, with one of them being issued to head coach Bill Boyle.
When the final buzzer had sounded, the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of Manhattan with the home team also posting an advantage in shots, 17-12. It was also just another day at the office for Manhattan senior goalkeeper Marcellin Gohier who built on his own school shutout record to bring his total to 16. In case you had any doubt about Manhattan’s typical second half heroics, all you need to know is that 14 of the Jaspers’ 17 goals this season have come in the second half of games.
Before the game, the program honored all nine of the seniors on the team. To show his appreciation for his seniors, head coach Jorden Scott elected to start all nine of them in what was a classy move by the seventh-year coach. After the game, Scott gave a glowing endorsement of his seniors for who they are as both people and players.
“This senior class is one of the most talented, diverse, and competitive groups I have coached in my career. They have challenged the program, players and staff, every day in our quest to be the best we can be. They led us to hosting our first MAAC playoff game, set a new program record for wins and battled the toughest schedule in our history this year. They deserve to be honored with a MAAC Championship and we will be going all out as a squad in the coming days and weeks to make that happen. I will be proud to call them alumni when the time comes,” Scott said during a postgame interview with Go Jaspers.
With the win, Manhattan will be participating in the six-team MAAC tournament for the second time in the last three seasons. After concluding their regular season at Siena on Wednesday, November 6th, Manhattan will prepare for a first round game in the MAAC tournament on Sunday, November 10th. With the standings still liable to change until the regular season ends, it is unknown as to who Manhattan will play, where they will play, and what time the game will be played at. However, it has already been determined that Manhattan can finish as high as fourth and as low as sixth depending on how the last few days of the season unfolds.