WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — In what was the biggest goal in USJ men's soccer history, the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's soccer team outlasted Albertus Magnus College (AMC), 1-0, in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) quarterfinals, on the USJ Soccer Field Saturday afternoon.
Freshman midfielder Michael Torres (Hartford, Conn.) netted his first career playoff goal (the second in program playoff history) with just 57 seconds on the clock to secure what was a true test of mental and physical toughness on the turf Saturday. With the victory, the four-seeded Blue Jays (12-5-1) advance to the GNAC semifinals for the first time, where they will go head-to-head against top-seeded Johnson & Wales University on the road Wednesday.
Semifinals - Wednesday, November 6 (at high seeds)
Match 5: #4 USJ @ #1 Johnson & Wales University
Match 6: #3 Norwich @ #2 St. Joseph's College (ME)
Championship - Saturday, November 9
Match 7: At highest remaining seed
The five-seeded Falcons (9-9-1) completely flipped the script from their 6-2 loss to USJ in the regular-season finale on October 30, amping up their aggression on both ends, but ultimately suffered a heartbreaking defeat after allowing a goal in the final minute of regulation. Freshman goalie Garfield Robinson (West Haven, Conn.) was sensational all-around for AMC, racking up 10 saves, many in acrobatic fashion, and allowed the game's only goal (6-7-1). USJ's freshman goalie John Griffin (Southington, Conn.) picked up his first career playoff shutout and second of 2019 (7-4-1).
The Falcons will certainly look back on two offside calls, one in the 21st minute, the other in the 57th. In both instances, the Falcons were able to get the ball into the net, but a whistle blew just moments later, taking them off the board, much to the dismay of the Falcon faithful, who made the forty-minute trip north. Both teams had ample opportunities to put the ball in, but time and time again could not finish the job. USJ held a noticeable advantage in total shots (19-10), including 11-7 in shots on goal. USJ also held a 7-3 mark in corner kicks. Eventually, enough knocking on the door and the door broke through.
In the 15th minute, sophomore forward DeAnte Anderson (Bloomfield, Conn.) dribbled past three AMC defenders after receiving the ball just outside the box. He launched a shot from just outside the goal right to left, but Robinson made an incredible acrobatic save, the ball left spinning on the turf inches in front of the line. He stopped it, snatched it, and kept it scoreless.
Six minutes later, the Falcons had a free kick from about 35 yards out. The ball was sent into the USJ net, but not before the first of two offside calls saved a goal. It was still scoreless midway through the first half.
Perhaps the best first-half chance for the Blue Jays came in the 33rd minute on a free kick from 18 yards (just outside the box) from freshman midfielder Mergim Kutllovci (Thomaston, Conn.). The kick looked good coming off, but sailed just to the left of the post and out of play.
The Falcons kept the pressure on the Blue Jays' backline through the midway point of the half, but Griffin kept AMC at bay with a few key saves, including one in the 44th minute, on a shot from the leading scorer in the conference this season, junior forward Salah Oumorou (West Haven, Conn.). It was one of two shots on goal for Oumorou in the match. It was still scoreless heading into the locker room.
Torres had a good look in the 49th minute, just a few steps away from the goal on a lofted pass over the top of the defense, but he couldn't get enough on the kick, tapping the ball with his heel, allowing Robinson to make another critical save, this one in traffic.
In the 57th minute, Oumorou launched another shot from the left side after tricky-dribbling past two defenders, but Griffin made an impressive save, smacking the ball down and toward the far post, only another AMC player was right there to tap the ball into the net. The goal was called back for a second time though, as officials believed he was offsides. It was still a scoreless match with 30 minutes to go.
USJ kept the ball in scoring territory, particularly in the final 10 minutes, where it had opportunities from junior midfielder and co-captain Gaetano LaBella (Wethersfield, Conn.), and two free kicks, all in a four-minute span. Each time though the ball was sent back. Finally, just as "one minute left in regulation" was announced on the field, Torres received the ball off a failed clear by AMC after a missed header by Anderson, who hoisted the ball into the top left portion of the cage to break the tie. It was Torres' third goal of 2019, and a first of many for USJ Men's Soccer in the postseason: first game-winning playoff goal, first home playoff goal, and the first-ever postseason win. A capacity crowd sprung from the cold metal bleachers in astonishment, as the Blue Jays held on for the biggest win in the program's short history.
The Blue Jays will now head to the shoreline for a date with destiny, taking on top-seeded Johnson & Wales University in the GNAC semifinals. The match is slated for Wednesday, November 6, at 4:00 p.m.
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