Hot start propels Rider into national rankings
If a Rider men’s soccer game is tied after 90 minutes, put your money on the Broncs.
Facing one of its biggest tests of the year Wednesday night, Rider took a 1-0, double-overtime victory over Manhattan in a battle for first place in the MAAC.
It was the seventh straight win for the Broncs (9-2, 4-0), who are tied with the Jaspers (7-5, 4-1) with 12 points and have played one less conference game. It was also Rider’s 12th straight overtime win in the past three seasons.
“That is a good statement about our toughness,” coach Charlie Inverso said. “It was a real physical game and we lost one player (Mathis Catanzaro) early in the game and Jose Aguinaga had to come out twice and had to go to the hospital after the game to receive stiches.”
Inverso felt his team was not sharp until 80 minutes into play, before suddenly producing numerous chances in the final 10 minutes of regulation and into OT. In the 109th minute, Pablo DeCastro (Madrid, Spain) headed in a corner kick from Elliott Otmani to give Rider its third overtime win this season.
The win came a day after Rider broke into the National Soccer Coaches national rankings, as the Broncs went from also-receiving-votes to No. 25. It is the second straight season Rider entered the Top 25, although its stay was brief after getting there last year.
“We really don’t take the rankings all that serious,” Inverso said. “It’s nice to scroll down the rankings and see Indiana, Maryland, Stanford, Duke, etc. and to see us included. If the rankings help motivate us that is good, but we don’t want them to be a distraction.”
The Broncs are one of the surprise teams in the nation after being hammered by graduation last year. Inverso is getting “good, consistent play from all our guys” but added that Jose Aguinaga, Otmani and Robbinsville grad David Pastuna have provided great leadership. He also pointed out that Princeton graduate Chase Ealy and Bordentown product Matt Horner “have both come in and given us valuable minutes.”
Another local product making his presence felt is Hamilton resident and Notre Dame grad Mark Pratico; a first-year assistant coach. Despite dealing with some serious personal issues, Pratico continues to be at every practice and game and has taken over Larry Povia’s job of working on the Broncs corner kicks and restarts. “He’s done a great job,” Inverso said. “Our goal against Manhattan came off of one of his designed corner kicks. He learned from Larry and Larry learned from (Mercer assistant) John Pietrowski.”
About the only negative Inverso can see up to this point is that his team doesn’t put the same intensity into practices as it does into games; which he feels could catch up to them if it continues.
“I would just say most days they don’t train as sharply as I want them to, so I usually leave practice not feeling like we are on a winning streak,” the coach said with a laugh. “I’m usually mad at them about something so it never feels like we are winning. But I still love this group.”