Men’s Soccer Strengthens Grip on Playoff Spot With Win Over Niagara

Will Fowler

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Photo: Liz Flynn

When your team is competing for a top spot in the playoffs, it’s more crucial than ever to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat, especially at home. It also doesn’t hurt to do it in convincing fashion. The Quinnipiac Bobcats men’s soccer team (8-5-2, 6-1-1 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) checked off both of those boxes in a dominant 3-0 win over the Niagara Purple Eagles (3-13-0, 1-7-0 MAAC). The win all but secured a MAAC tournament berth for the squad.


“That’s our goal coming into the season,” Quinnipiac head coach Eric Da Costa said of his team’s achievement. “We’re thrilled about that… but it’s about focusing on what’s next, achieving the next goal on the list.”


For the first time since September, the Bobcats won a game by more than a goal, and they got the offense started early and often.


Just about five minutes in, Quinnipiac was able to open the scoring, and it did so with style. Evan Hughes took a pass from Eamon Whelan for what looked to be a difficult scoring chance, and Niagara defenders swarmed him. Rather than attempting the near-impossible, Hughes faked a shot and found a cutting Oriac Vila Rotxes instead. In return, Rotxes rocketed a shot into the top left corner of an open net for his second goal of the year, and the first of the day for the Bobcats.


Afterwards, Niagara found a few holes in Quinnipiac’s defense for a few minutes, but the Purple Eagles could not get a shot on net throughout that stretch. A little later on, though, Niagara was poised to get that shot on net, this time on a breakaway.


After a deflected pass, the ball found the foot of Niagara’s leading scorer Luca Pacheco, and he broke free from everyone else on the pitch. Pacheco soon had no one else to beat but the keeper, Quinnipiac’s Jared Mazzola. However, Pacheco could not improve on his 11 points for the season, as Mazzola got down to make a terrific save, preserving his team’s lead.


“In those situations, I really enjoy it,” said Mazzola. “Stuffing someone is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I knew where he was going from the get-go.


After some more even play, Niagara again almost equalized the game with five minutes left in the half – and they didn’t even have to do anything.


Quinnipiac’s Christian Casagranda passed the ball back to Mazzola after a routine clearance. However, Mazzola was charging up to get it, and Casagranda didn’t hear Mazzola calling him off. Chaos ensued.


Mazzola sprinted along the pitch, trying desperately to reach the ball before it crossed the line. Fortunately for the Bobcats, he got there and cleared the ball out of the area about a foot before it went in, and Quinnipiac went into the half with a 1-0 lead.


“I shouldn’t have called (Casagranda off),” Mazzola chuckled sheepishly after the game. “It was on me. But I’m quick, so I got back there.”


The story of the second half was not one of the regulars, but rather a sub who had yet to score a goal on the season. Salah Oumorou stepped into the spotlight to put the game away for Quinnipiac.


Only three minutes into the half, Oumorou set up teammate Rashawn Dally with a wonderful through ball, but Dally’s shot clanked off the post. Luckily for Quinnipiac, Whelan was there for the rebound, and he chipped home an awkward rebound while falling to the turf, extending the lead to 2-0.


But the sophomore wasn’t done just yet. Just 2 minutes later, Oumorou got a goal of his own. After a long pass from Derek Parker landed in front of Holt, it was misplayed badly by the goalkeeper. Holt let the ball go past him instead of clearing it, and Oumorou launched his first career goal into an open net, closing the book on an easy Bobcat win.


Niagara never really threatened through the rest of the game, allowing Mazzola to secure his second clean sheet of the season in the 3-0 victory.


“Whether it’s one, six, twelve, it’s just about scoring more than the other team” said Da Costa. “Pick up three points in games that we should pick up three points.”


Quinnipiac will look to continue their winning ways this Saturday, as they’ll be visiting Marist at 7 p.m. As for Niagara, they’ll host Iona on Saturday at 1 p.m.