The sting of barely missing out on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference postseason tournament party last year lasted well into the offseason for the Manhattan Jaspers men’s soccer team.
So what was head coach Jorden Scott’s plan to combat a similar fate this season? Load up on prime-time programs in the non-conference portion of the Jaspers’ schedule with the goal being having a more battle-tested team once MAAC season arrived.
And although Manhattan took its lumps during the non-conference season — going 1-5 against such Eastern elite programs as St. John’s, Rutgers, UConn and Fordham — Scott’s experiment achieved the desired results. Manhattan won its first two MAAC games with wins over Monmouth and Quinnipiac, and a third straight win at archrival Iona last week would clearly have the Jaspers on the road to a special season.
But a goal late in the second half by Iona forced overtime, allowing the Gaels to break through with another tally in the second extra session as the Jaspers suffered their first conference defeat of the season in a 2-1 loss in New Rochelle.
It was a draining defeat, one that saw the Jaspers competing without four starters due to injury. But still, Scott thinks his program is in a good place early in the season.
“We should have won that game,” Scott said. “We had so many chances, especially in the first half. We lost the game because of us. We didn’t lose because of them.”
The Jaspers were playing without senior goalkeeper Marcellin Gohier, who was nursing a shoulder injury, as well as midfielders Jamie Cotter and Felipe Clavijo, and defenseman Simon Busch.
But still the Jaspers managed to take a 1-0 lead in the second half when junior Moritz Riegel scored in the 72nd minute. And as time ticked away at rain-swept Mazzella Field, it looked as if Manhattan would head back to Riverdale with its unbeaten conference record intact.
But with just over two minutes to play in regulation, Iona’s Joseph Cusano somehow found the net with a shot off his back heel to knot the game at 1, sending the game into overtime. After neither team scored in the first session, Iona’s Mauro Bravo knocked home a goal in the second overtime to seal the deal for the Gaels.
“It was disappointing the way we lost it, but I feel good about where we’re at in terms of our performance level and where we are as a team,” Scott said. “I’m a big believer in protect your home field in the MAAC and then snag one (win) on the road. So for us, this was an opportunity to snag one, and we just came up a little short.
“That’s all right, it happens. But we’ll be back. We’ll be better for it.”
The thing that raised Scott’s spirits following the loss was the reaction of his team. It was an angry bus ride home for a bunch of Jaspers who knew they had let one get away.
“This might be the most competitive group I’ve ever had,” Scott said. “But I think we’re still in a really good place. I think if we had been 3-0, I’d be doing cartwheels. But 2-1 is OK. Iona got away with one, but we’d love to see them again.”
Manhattan was forced to live with the loss for a full week thanks to a weekend bye in MAAC play. Its next scheduled game was slated for Oct. 16 at Rider.
And while a week-long respite kept the Jaspers in a frosty mood, it also had its benefits.
“I think we needed a break,” Scott said. “We need to get some guys back. We need to be fully healthy going into the Rider game. After that game it’s like gangbusters. We have to play seven games in three-and-a-half weeks. So this is our last little break before we go for it.”
Gohier is expected to be back in time for the Rider game, Scott said, as is Clavijo.
“But with Simon and Jamie, we’re going to have to wait and see,” the coach added. “That’s going to be a touch-and-go thing.”
As the injured begin to return, the road to the postseason continues for the hungry — and now angry — Jaspers.
“We feel we’re in good shape as long as we get our guys back healthy,” Scott said. “We’ll play anybody, and we’ll compete with anybody. We just have to get consistent. That’s the biggest thing for us. Can we deliver consistency, especially when we’re in a good moment like we are now?
“I think we will.”