Iona beats Quinnipiac in MAAC men’s soccer semis

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Iona beats Quinnipiac in MAAC men’s soccer semis

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn

Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn

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There were five seconds remaining in the Quinnipiac men’s soccer team’s season. Down 2-1 against the Iona Gaels, Quinnipiac senior midfielder Romain Daniellou prepared to take a free-kick that signified the last hurrah in his pursuit of a MAAC championship.

Quinnipiac junior goalkeeper Jared Mazzola abandoned his goal and joined his nine other teammates who were desperately waiting for Daniellou’s cross at the edge of the box.

Daniellou crossed the ball, and the clock began to run down as the ball made its way into the 18-yard-box. Twenty players from both teams all charged to the near post where the ball was sent. Scenes from last year’s semifinal against Marist came to mind, as the fans who crowded the bleachers of the Quinnipiac Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium stood up for the final Bobcat charge. Was this about to be another heroic afternoon for Quinnipiac head coach Eric Da Costa’s team?

The ball fell short, and the Iona defense was able to clear it out of play, leaving the Bobcats with nothing to do but crumble to the ground, knowing their season had come to an end.

The Bobcats fought hard until the last whistle. The intensity and character of the players was evident in the teary, swollen eyes of their head coach.

“These guys showed their character again when they were up against it,” Da Costa said. “There’s no quit in this team, and there’s no quit in this program and that’s the culture of who we are. That’s something I walk away from feeling really, really proud of.”

Ultimately, Quinnipiac was unable to overcome the mistakes from the first half.

Iona opened the scoring 21 minutes into the game after a good build up play that ended with junior forward Najim Romero setting up junior midfielder Josh Plimpton just inside the box, leaving him able to take a few steps towards the goal before firing a powerful shot that was unsavable for Mazzola.

Only 11 minutes later, Iona played a fabulous through ball towards Romero. Mazzola ran forward and slid just inside the edge of the box trying to outrun Romero for the ball. Romero got there first, and Mazzola collided with his legs and took him down, leaving game referee David Belmnahia no choice but to blow his whistle and point to the spot, calling a penalty.

Romero took the ball himself and simply waited for Mazzola to commit to diving towards his left post, so he could calmly make a classy chip into the middle of the net, outside of Mazzola’s reach, to make it 2-0 for the Gaels in the 33rd minute.

The second half was a completely different script. From the first minute on, Quinnipiac bombarded Iona’s half with more heart than clarity, in search for two goals that would tie the game.

As with any great direct-elimination game in soccer, there were controversial calls. Twice in the second half, it appeared that an Iona player touched the ball with his hand inside the box. Twice, Belmnahia swallowed his whistle and restrained from calling a penalty.

“The referees are in there and you guys should all knock on the door and ask questions,” Da Costa said. “A few of them are probably easy and clear, and the whistle just didn’t blow for us today.”

The game became a feisty, intense battle as Belmnahia lost control of what was happening on the pitch. Quinnipiac senior goalkeeper Chrysostomos Iakovidis was livid, running up and down the Bobcats’ sideline for most of the second half in protest of the missed calls.

In the final minutes, the ball fell in a very favorable position for Quinnipiac’s main man up front. Senior forward Eamon Whelan. The striker with the third most goals in program history fired his shot wide of the goal to the disbelief of the home crowd. Today’s game signified the last time Whelan will play in a Quinnipiac uniform, after what has been an illustrious career.

“He had a great career for us over the course of his four years,” Da Costa said. “We appreciate what he’s given to this program over the course of his career, and he’ll be missed.”

With less than two minutes on the clock, Quinnipiac first-year forward Brage Aasen made an outstanding control with his chest after an incisive cross by sophomore defenseman Jordon Bennett. Assen then scored the first goal of his collegiate career, to bring hope for the home side, as the crowd erupted when ball touched the back of the net.

However, it was too little too late for the Bobcats, and as time ran out, it was the Gaels who effusively celebrated on the field, as they punched their ticket to face Saint Peter’s in the MAAC championship game this Sunday, Nov. 17.

For the Bobcats and Da Costa, a season that started with lots of hope and expectations ended in heartbreaking fashion.

“There’s a lot of sad guys in that locker room,” Da Costa said. “I am too, but I’m really proud of them. Really proud of them.”