Fall, Featured Story

Albany Eliminates Eagles in NCAA Tournament

The University of Albany got the last laugh.

In their September meeting with Boston College men’s soccer, the Great Danes went up 2-0 but gave up four answered goals in a 5-3 defeat to the Eagles. On Sunday in the NCAA Tournament, Albany went up 2-0 early on the Eagles, but this time held the lead throughout en route to a 3-0 victory to end BC’s season.

After an up-and-down season, the Eagles (9-9-3, 3-3-2 Atlantic Coast) started to get hot at the right time and looked poised to make a run similar to last year’s journey to the Elite Eight. Needing some big wins in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid, the Eagles knocked off Virginia Tech and then top-seeded North Carolina to qualify for the tournament above a .500 win percentage. The perk of playing in the tough ACC and having a high RPI then earned them a favorable draw in the NCAAs, giving them a home game against a mid-conference team in Fordham, and then a rematch against Albany (13-5-2, 4-2-1 America East), whom they had already beaten. A tough season in the ACC looked to be paying off as the Eagles had two winnable games before a potential matchup with Clemson in the Sweet Sixteen.

But the Eagles reverted back to early-season form, and despite holding a majority of possession throughout the game, failed to convert any chances and gave up two early goals that would prove fatal.

The Eagles came out pretty well in the first 10 minutes, dictating the game. Zeiko Lewis got on the ball early and looked for his shot, and the Eagles earned a couple corners to start off the match.

As it has been prone to do this season, however, BC conceded first from a header off a corner in the 12th minute. A defensive lapse and suspect marking by BC allowed Albany defender Bernardo Mattos to beat out Tommy Gudmundsson and head the ball in at the near post.

Albany first goal

The Eagles continued to maintain possession but were too eager to try the long ball, with Trevor Davock up top trying to run in behind a stout defensive line. The through ball approach was made much tougher by gusty winds on a cold and snowy afternoon in upstate New York.

It almost worked in the 17th minute, however, as a long looping ball over the top found Davock with space to run at goal, but he was a bit too wide and didn’t have a good angle on goal, shooting wide to the far post.

Head coach Ed Kelly brought on Simon Enstrom earlier than the usual in the 24th minute, pushing Davock out wide. Enstrom, the bigger forward, is naturally better at hold-up play than the speedy Davock, who is at his best dribbling in on goal from wide positions.

BC kept the ball in its attacking end, but only had a couple corners and a blocked Abe Bibas shot to show for it.

Its inability to generate more quality chances from possession and score goals proved costly once Albany scored again on the counterattack in the 28th minute. A ball from Albany keeper Danny Vitiello bounced in the midfield and was collected by the Great Danes. With BC’s defensive line out of shape, Afonso Pinheiro played Nico Solabarrieta in on goal, and the forward chipped it past a sliding Cedric Saladin for the second goal.

ALbany second goal

With snow starting to fall and the wind picking up, the Eagles put themselves in a major hole, but they had come back before against Albany.

With the game much more open in the second half, Albany looked even more dangerous on the counterattack, and only a couple of superb saves by Saladin and some help from the post kept the Eagles in the game.

In the 58th minute, Pinheiro nearly scored twice. His first chance went off the post after dribbling at Gudmundsson and cutting inside for the low shot. Saladin came up with a spectacular save less than a minute later when Pinheiro was played behind the defense and tried to cut around Saladin, who somehow kept up with Pinheiro and stuck out a leg to deflect the shot out of bounds.

Albany Saladin first save

Ten minutes later, Saladin once again denied Pinheiro. In a one-on-one with the keeper from the left side, Pinheiro tried to cut inside on goal, but Saladin dove and got an outstretched arm on the ball to poke it away from the striker.

Albany Saladin second save

BC still had nothing to show for Saladin on the opposite end, despite winning a number of corners and free kicks taken by Callum Johnson. Gudmundsson got his head on the ball a couple of times, but couldn’t direct anything on frame.

Credit the Albany formation and defensive shape for shutting down BC. The team had a game plan coming in, allowing BC time on the ball, but they stuck to it, defended well, and converted their chances when they came. Against Fordham, BC had a ton of space in the wide areas for fullbacks Younes Boudadi and Mohammed Moro to enter the attack, but Albany put numbers behind the ball and suffocated the Eagles across the midfield for the most part. Lasse Lehmann was continually met by two or three defenders in the midfield, and although the German did well to fight through it, he couldn’t create any quality chances. The movement of the ball and intricate passing showcased against Fordham was gone, as Albany worked hard to cover passing lanes and intercept the give-and-go attempts up top.

Kelly continued to switch things up, as he brought on Max Schulze-Geisthovel and played Enstrom and Lewis farther up the field alongside the center forward.

BC’s closest chance of the night came in the 80th minute. A loose ball in the box fell to Lewis after Vitiello missed a clearance and tumbled to the ground, but Vitiello popped up quickly and got in front of Lewis to deny him an open goal.

Two minutes later, Pinheiro finally got the best of Saladin to score the third goal and seal the victory for the Great Danes. He got on the end of a through ball and, instead of trying to beat Saladin on the dribble, curled an early shot around the keeper and into the net.

ALbany third goal

The Eagles know how to pick it up during tournament time, as shown by last year’s Elite Eight run and this year’s team winning four of its last six games and making noise for the first time all season once the tournaments started. But something just hadn’t been clicking for the team offensively this year, and it relied on Lewis for goals during the final stretch.

Despite a number of attacking weapons, the Eagles weren’t clicking offensively, and a 2-0 hole against a determined Albany team was too deep for even Lewis to lead his team out of one more time this season.

Featured Image by Celine Lin / Heights Staff

November 20, 2016

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