By Collin Bolebruch
The sixth seeded Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team (8-7-3) won against the third seeded New Paltz Hawks (9-5-3) 3-2 Oct. 29 in the first round of the SUNYAC Playoffs. The game was Plattsburgh’s first appearance and win in the tournament since 2019.
Plattsburgh midfielders Brian Coughlan, Dylan Shalvey and Cole Weiner scored one goal each. Coughlan had the lone assist of the game. Goalkeeper Teddy Healy saved six shots and allowed two goals for a .750 save percentage.
Sophomores Coughlan and Healy and junior Shalvey all shared their first playoff experience against New Paltz. Healy said there were nerves “at the beginning,” but seeing friends on New Paltz calmed him down “a lot.” Coughlan gave credit to older players for their mentorship.
“It was exciting to play in the first playoff game, but hopefully there’s many more to come and the older kids are pretty good leaders about everything,” Coughlan said.
Midfielder and senior Christian Garner played in Plattsburgh’s last playoff game in 2019 and had some advice to share with some of the playoff-inexperienced Cardinals.
“I talked to some of the younger guys and told them, ‘Just treat it like any other game but with a little bit more intensity. Just go in there like it’s your last game and play as hard as you can. At the end of the day, just give it all you got,’” Garner said.
New Paltz midfielder Joseph DiPreta was responsible for both of the Hawks’ scores, putting in two unassisted goals. Goalkeeper Christian Micheli allowed three goals and saved four, recording a .571 save percentage.
The Hawks out-shot the Cardinals with eight on goal to its seven. Four New Paltz players took shots on goal, led by defender Tim Kane with four. Plattsburgh had six players take shots on goal. Midfielder John Hayes had two shots on goal and was the only Cardinal with multiple attempts.
The win ends a three-week streak without a conference win for Plattsburgh. The Cardinals played the Hawks at home Sept. 21 and lost 0-1. Plattsburgh beat just two SUNYAC teams in the regular season, the Geneseo Knights and the Oswego Lakers.
The Cardinals’ playoff status was put into question by a two-game slide with losses against the Oneonta Red Dragons and the Fredonia Blue Devils. Plattsburgh’s last conference game of the season was a 2-2 tie against the Buffalo State Bengals in Buffalo Oct. 22.
The tie netted the Cardinals one point in the SUNYAC standings. Plattsburgh needed Oneonta to beat Fredonia and New Paltz to beat Oswego. Both scenarios happened, and New Paltz punched Plattsburgh’s ticket to the playoffs.
The Cardinals knew it deserved to be in the tournament. Healy didn’t think the results of the New Paltz game “was an upset at all,” adding that he thinks Plattsburgh is “the best team in the league.” Coughlan shared a similar sentiment.
“100% [agree]. I mean, I think we had a couple bad results during the season. But other than that, we knew the quality of the team and we didn’t want to view it as such a favored game toward the other team,” Coughlan said.
Plattsburgh quickly sent its message to New Paltz. Shalvey scored just over seven minutes into the match, assisted by Coughlan. Multiple New Paltz attempts to answer were fruitless, including three shots and two corner kicks.
Weiner scored to increase the lead to two. The Hawks substituted five players, took a corner kick and attempted three shots over the next 15 minutes. None of its seven first-half efforts resulted in a score.
“It felt easier, in all honesty, to defend them. The way we set up during practice, we set up in a deeper formation and we all worked together, we were all on the same page, we knew what we wanted to do going into the game and then it was all about executing it,” Garner said.
Plattsburgh attributes its success to a new style of play it adapted for the game.
“We were maybe a bit more compact and a little bit more defensively oriented, I would say. We tried to make New Paltz be the team with a protagonist in the game and tried to make them open up,” Head Coach Chris Taylor said. “We felt the more we did that the more we create spaces to attack quickly and that’s the way it turned out. We had a game plan in the first half and I don’t want to say it worked to perfection, but it wasn’t far off.”
Coughlan scored Plattsburgh’s last goal with seven minutes left in the half. The 3-0 lead was one of three times this season the Cardinals held a lead of three or more points. Plattsburgh was unable to find the same success for the rest of the game, not scoring again over six shots.
Two New Paltz goals in the second half were not enough to match Plattsburgh’s total. Healy saved a potential game-tying goal with less than five minutes left in the match.
“Honestly, second half, we were under the gun. We were backs to the wall under so much pressure, probably the most pressure we’ve faced all season,” Taylor said. “That’s when the game plan went out the window, and it became all about the guys and their heart and their character and their desire. I was just so proud to watch them.”
The Cardinals advanced to the semifinals in Oneonta to play the Red Dragons. Oneonta beat Plattsburgh 0-1 less than a month before the playoffs began. The Cardinals felt it was up for the Red Dragons’ challenge without distraction.
“We expected to win that game [against New Paltz], we expected to be in playoffs and we expect to win playoff games. That’s just who we are,” Taylor said. “People are going to be excited about it but we’ve got a lot of work to do to play another excellent opponent. We’re excited about that.”
Healy agreed that the team was confident and had a chance to win.
“There’s no doubt in our minds that we can beat them. We know it’s going to be a tough game, but that’s what we want. It’s playoffs,” Healy said.
Plattsburgh lost to Oneonta in the semifinals 0-2 Nov. 2. The loss marks five straight losses to the Red Dragons and its fourth straight playoff loss to the SUNYAC rival.
Coughlan led Plattsburgh with three shots on goal, followed by two attempts by midfielder Rocky Bujaj and single attempts from four other Cardinals. Healy recorded his career high in goals saved with eight for a .800 save percentage.
Oneonta forwards Lucas Fecci and Joe Holder scored unassisted once each. Goalkeeper Nate Hanna out-dueled Healy, saving nine goals with a perfect 1.000 save percentage.
The match was scoreless for its first 60 minutes. Sixteen total shots blanked before Holder broke the silence. Plattsburgh searched for an equalizer, shooting four times over the last 30 minutes. Fecci’s goal with three minutes remaining was the dagger that secured Oneonta’s win.
The Cardinals ended its season with an overall record of 8-8-3 for an even .500 win percentage. Plattsburgh qualified for the SUNYAC tournament in three out of Taylor’s four seasons with the team.
Despite the playoff appearance, Plattsburgh’s win percentage declined from 2021’s .531 mark. Its two SUNYAC wins in 2022 is its least since 1989, when only four conference games were played.
“We had a little bit of a disappointing regular season at times. We spoke after the Brockport conference game, which was a little earlier in the season,” Taylor said. “We said, ‘Get ourselves in [to the playoffs].’ That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter how we get ourselves in, and we can be a team that moves forward.”