By Collin Bolebruch
The Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer team (7-6-2) lost to the conference opponent Fredonia Blue Devils (3-8-3) by a score of 2-3 in front of a packed venue Oct. 15. Generations of Plattsburgh alumni were on campus this past weekend to celebrate Homecoming, coinciding with men’s soccer’s Senior Day. The influx of Cardinals on school grounds resulted in the team’s largest home audience in four years, with an estimated 203 fans in attendance.
Fredonia entered the game facing playoff elimination, as a loss would have mathematically kept the Blue Devils out of the SUNYAC Playoffs. Plattsburgh and Fredonia now stand even in the conference standings with eight points apiece.
The Cardinals are now in a five-man race for one the two remaining conference playoff bids. The Geneseo Knights have nine points, Plattsburgh, the Oswego Lakers and Fredonia tie with eight points, then the Buffalo State Bengals stand behind with seven points The Potsdam Bears are the only team in the conference to have been eliminated from contention. Each team has one SUNYAC game left.
Before the match kicked off, Plattsburgh honored its 10 seniors and graduate students with a pre-game celebration. The class includes seniors Jimmy Alexander, Rocky Bujaj, Ethan Gaboff, Christian Garner, Alex Graci, Juan Velez and Cole Weiner and graduate students Joseph Ditillo, Andrew Braverman and Trey Ekert. It’s unknown yet which seniors will return for a fifth season granted to them by the NCAA because of COVID-19.
Sophomore John Hayes was the lone goal-scorer of the match, recording two scores in five shots on goal. Velez and sophomore Brian Coughlan both had multiple shots, but no player other than Hayes had more than one shot on goal. Braverman, Velez and Coughlan were credited with assists. Sophomore Teddy Healy saved four goals and allowed three.
Plattsburgh started the game fiery on offense. The Cardinals shot five times to the Blue Devils’ zero in the first 12 minutes. Coughlan once and Hayes twice sent shots off target. Coughlan tested Fredonia sophomore Tanner Stutzman in the bottom center of the net and was denied. Twenty-five seconds later, Velez did the same in the bottom left and was met with the same result.
A Cardinals corner kick allowed for the offense to set itself up. Hayes put Plattsburgh on the board at the 18:25 mark, assisted by both Coughlan and Braverman. The crowd rallied as the Cardinals celebrated on the field.
Plattsburgh regained possession quickly after the subsequent kick-off. Hayes scored a second goal, assisted by Velez, just over a minute after his first. The Cardinals were putting on a show, making quick work of the Blue Devils.
Plattsburgh didn’t record a single shot for the last 25 minutes of the first half. Fredonia had two of its own, but could not record a score either. The once red-hot Cardinals offense fizzled into stagnancy. Plattsburgh led 2-0 headed into halftime.
“I think after two goals we got too comfortable. We had a big enough lead to be comfortable, and we got comfortable, and they punished us for it,” Hayes said.
Fredonia began the second half with three successive corner kicks. The third kick set up the Blue Devil offense for a shot attempt by senior Robert Aboagye. The ball, sent to the bottom center, was rejected and the Cardinals were credited with a team save.
An Ekert foul minutes later put the Fredonia offense in position to score its first goal of the day. Junior Markus Johansson, assisted by sophomores Cameron Walsh and Kaleb Steward, beat Healy for the first Blue Devil goal of the day. The score, 2-1, still favored Plattsburgh.
The Cardinals responded with its first shots in 40 game minutes. Velez fired a shot out right of the goal, his second attempt of the game. Plattsburgh was rewarded with a corner kick almost two minutes later. Coughlan took the kick. Hayes connected, sending the ball to the bottom right, but was blocked and Fredonia was credited with a team save. Another Velez attempt proved fruitless.
The teams traded shots over the next 15 minutes with no score. Both squads put a shot on target only once. Yellow cards were handed out to Coughlan and Walsh and a total of five fouls were called.
Fredonia’s Steward, assisted by junior Dylan Ange, scored the equalizer with 13 minutes remaining. The Cardinals failed to score in almost 60 game minutes, and the Blue Devils took advantage.
In a game where Plattsburgh had control early on, it was now trying to avoid a third straight opponent score.
“We got too comfortable and lazy, including myself,” Hayes said.
Head Coach Chris Taylor disagreed with the notion that Fredonia’s comeback can be attributed to Plattsburgh getting “too comfortable” and “lazy”
“I don’t know if it’s a comfort thing, but we knew what was going to happen in that second half. We talked about the wind, we talked about their desperation,” Taylor said. “We wanted to use their desperation against them and play with poise and professionalism. We never got going, when we needed big leadership we never got it. We needed guys to really take control of momentum and it didn’t happen. I’ve probably got to take responsibility as well.”
Coughlan took another corner kick at the 81:55 minute mark. A Cardinal made contact with the ball and a whistle was blown. The ball enters the net but no goal is counted. Stutzman was on the ground and his teammates called for a trainer. The referees conferred for a few minutes, Stutzman got to his feet and Fredonia Head Coach P.J. Gondek remained on the field. Play resumed and Stutzman stayed in the goal.
Fredonia’s Aboagye, assisted by sophomore Milkias Aregawi, scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute to save itself from playoff elimination. Plattsburgh recorded no shots in the last 15 minutes of the game.
“We had more than enough chances to win that game and make it safe, just lack of execution in both boxes,” Taylor said. “We’re not putting teams away when we should and then the pressure mounts, that’s the issue.”
Velez echoed Taylor’s comments about being a better team.
“We could have done better, we should have been more connected, more hungry, and Fredonia came out to play,” Velez said.
When the siren signaled the end of the game, Coughlan and Hayes headed directly to the locker room. Taylor yelled for them to return and shake hands with the other team. Cardinals and Blue Devils had some exchanges at midfield.
“They’re only college kids, their maturity, emotional. That’s positive development. I’m not a big fan of showing big emotions after a game, especially when we’ve had 90 minutes to do that,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to stand up in the moment instead of reacting after the moment.”
Plattsburgh’s playoff status is now up in the air and the last week of games will determine if the Cardinals earned a spot. Plattsburgh plays one more SUNYAC game this season, taking on the Buffalo State Bengals (4-7-4) in Buffalo Oct. 22
Playoff scenarios include but are not limited to a Plattsburgh win and a Fredonia loss or tie or a Plattsburgh win or tie and a Geneseo loss.
“[Buffalo St.] is a playoff game now,” Taylor said. “It pretty much has to be a win.”