WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's soccer team scored two quick goals in the first 11 minutes to stay ahead for good, dominating and defeating intrastate rival Albertus Magnus College (AMC), 6-2, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, in its Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) regular-season finale.
A match that featured the two top GNAC goal scorers in 2019, junior forward Salah Oumorou (West Haven, Conn.) with 20 for AMC, and sophomore forward DeAnte Anderson (Bloomfield, Conn.) with 15 for USJ, was set to be a thriller all around, only the Blue Jays spoiled the party with four goals in the first 27 minutes, more than enough to seal the match, and the four seed in the GNAC Postseason Tournament, which kicks off Saturday. As the four seed, USJ will host Albertus Magnus in a rematch on the USJ Soccer Field in the quarterfinals. It marks the first-ever home playoff match in the history of men's athletics at USJ, and the first playoff match to be held on the newly renovated turf field.
Five different players scored for the Blue Jays (10-6-1, 7-3-1 GNAC), including Anderson, who netted back-to-back goals to make it 17 on the season. The Falcons (9-8-1, 6-5-0 GNAC) received contributions from junior forward Abdoul Aremu (West Haven, Conn.), who got AMC on the board in the 52nd minute, and from Oumorou, who scored his 21st goal of 2019 just four minutes later. Despite trimming it to three, USJ kept it out of the net for the remainder of the game. Saint Joseph held a 22-13 shots advantage overall, including 14-7 in shots on goal. Freshmen Benjamin Marchetti (Higganum, Conn.), Anthony Delacruz (East Hartford, Conn.), and Mergim Kutlovci (Thomaston, Conn.) all scored for the Blue Jays, as well as sophomore Hayden Burbank (Southington, Conn.). Four Blue Jays were credited with assists, including Burbank, Anderson, Kutlovci, and junior co-captain Gaetano LaBella (Wethersfield, Conn.).
In the eighth minute, Kutlovci utilized his speed to drive the ball hard down the left side of the field. He then angled in towards the middle and launched a rocket from just outside the box, which smacked the bottom of the crossbar and went in. 1-0 USJ. Just three minutes later, a corner kick from Burbank spiraled into the left-center portion of the box, where Delacruz headed it into the top left corner for his second goal of the season. USJ held a commanding 2-0 lead as the mist continued to fall.
Kutlocvi had another shot to score (in almost an identical play to his first goal) in the 19th minute, but instead, he drove further towards the middle before pulling the trigger. The shot was immediately blocked by an AMC defender, but rolled right in front of Anderson, who touch passed it to Burbank, before slicing a shot from the right side from just outside the box to make it 3-0. It wouldn't stop there though, as USJ continued to jam the ball into AMC territory. In the 27th minute, Kutlovci lined up for a free kick from just outside the box, but Anderson rebounded it and put it home to make it 4-0. The Falcons struggled to get a solid chance in the first half, keeping the score at 4-0 into the break.
The Blue Jays refused to let up despite a four-goal advantage. In the 48th minute, Kutlovci found Anderson again for his second goal of the game on a cross to the middle, just feet from the posts. Anderson put it home with ease to make it 5-0 USJ.
The Falcons attempted to chip away at the lead and got on the scoreboard four minutes later on a great corner kick from senior defender Tyler Saad (Shelton, Conn.), who found Aremu for his eighth goal of 2019. 5-1 USJ. Moments later, Albertus cut the gap to three (56th minute) on an unassisted goal off a deflection from Oumorou. Oumorou was looking to pass it out while in traffic, only it was knocked right back to him. He had just enough time to make his decision, putting it past freshman goalie John Griffin (Southington, Conn.) in the bottom right corner of the cage. 5-2 USJ.
The intensity ramped up on and off the field, as the Falcons launched an all-out attack in an attempt to pull off a comeback for the ages. USJ stayed on the offense regardless. Kutlovci had two good free kick opportunities in the 61st and 64th minute, but freshman goalie Garfield Robinson (West Haven, Conn.) made two critical saves, the latter being an acrobatic leap to the left side, keeping the score 5-2. Both teams traded chances for the next 20 minutes, but each time they were sent away. Oumorou had a golden opportunity in the 81st minute on a breakaway, but it went wide left.
The intensity began to dip as the clock ticked down. The rain, however, picked up substantially in the final stretch of the match. The Blue Jays added a sixth and final goal to the tally from Marchetti, who knocked in a ball off a chopping cross from LaBella, putting an end to any hope of a comeback. USJ walked off the field with the 6-2 triumph.
The Blue Jays will host a GNAC Postseason Tournament Quarterfinal match on the USJ Soccer Field at 2:30 p.m. against intrastate rival Albertus Magnus College, a rematch of Wednesday's intense battle. The winner will advance to the GNAC Semifinals on Wednesday, November 6.
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