By Trey Wright and Georgia Tarullo
IN two hard fought battles against the NJIT on Sept. 8 and the UPenn on Sept. 12, Rider men’s soccer battled to two ties, while graduate student forward Zaki Alibou suited up for his long-awaited return.
Gained a point
After their fourth consecutive game on the road, Rider brought their record to 2-1-1. With Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play fast approaching, the Broncs faced the NJIT Highlanders on Sept. 8 in quite a competitive match up.
Throughout the duration of the first half, Rider was able to have the bulk of the possession, moving the ball fluently as well as combining passes through the midfield. The Broncs collected six shots with two on frame, as well as forcing the NJIT goalkeeper to make two saves.
During the 63rd minute of play, the Highlanders slipped one past sophomore goalkeeper Adam Salama, bringing the score to 0-1 and putting the Broncs in a position to chase the game.
The instant response from Rider showed grit and perseverance as a unit.
Just 10 minutes later in the 73rd minute, Rider was awarded a free kick to which senior midfielder Adel Al-Masude sent one past the Highlanders keeper for the equalizer.
“I think the biggest contributor to the game was our mentality … This team doesn’t give up and I think that will continue to be a contributing factor to our success,” said graduate student midfielder Ethan Shaw on the hard fought draw.
Shortly following that goal, the physicality of the game was raised significantly and the referees distributed seven yellow cards to both teams, with a total of nine for the game.
The team worked well together, they moved the ball with ease and communicated well, a worthwhile result of the team’s chemistry this season.
“I have been here since 2020 and this is the most united Rider men’s soccer team I have ever been on, no question,” said graduate student back Brendan Fischer. “Ignore all the talent we have, this fact is actually what should worry opponents the most. There’s really a lot of love in the locker room.”
After battling four consecutive away games, the Broncs are ready to come back home, “It’s never easy playing games on the road, especially four of them in a row. To come out with a 2-1-1 record is solid,” Shaw said.
‘I was proud of these guys’
After starting the 2023 regular season with a 2-1-1 record on the road, Rider opened their four game home stand with a scoreless first foray at Ben Cohen Field this year.
The match was personal for Head Coach Chad Duernberger, as UPenn had previously upset #14 ranked Penn State on Sept. 8, the team Duernberger coached before Rider.
Things nearly got off to a rocky start when sophomore goaltender Salama tried to play the ball inside the eighteen and lost possession, nearly allowing a prime scoring opportunity for Penn four minutes into the matchup. A few more defensive turnovers by the Broncs went in favor of the Quakers, but were unable to pull the trigger on the quality scoring chances.
Alibou came alive in the first half, with the 2021 MAAC offensive player of the year being a part of the first three scoring chances for the Broncs, two of which were directly on the net.
“I love coaching Zaki,” said Duernberger. “And for me we’re trying to get him back into playing 90 minutes.”
Alibou only played 87 minutes across two games in 2022.
“It’s my first game,” said Alibou. “I take this as a step forward and go ahead for the next games.”
Rider was defensive throughout the match, only allowing one shot on Salama on the night, and four shots total.
Offensively, the Broncs had 17 chances in the 90 minute span, five of them on goal, and three so close you could taste the net.
Wild scrambles, missiles from outside the eighteen, and even an attempted bicycle kick from senior forward Babacar Diene highlighted the second half. One of those blasts came from senior midfielder David Ogbonna, who doinked a shot off the top right corner and somehow stayed out.
Another prime opportunity came from junior midfielder Dylan Kotch, who shanked a point-blank chance wide, keeping the game scoreless.
A last minute push from Rider came up short in the end, and the Broncs ended the week with back to back ties, finishing out of conference play with a 2-2-1 record.
“I’m happy with the performance but sad with the result,” said Alibou after the game.
“I was proud of our guys, you can look at things as a negative, but we’re looking at it as ‘we outshot them, we’re unbeaten through four [games],” said Duernberger, “I’m really pleased with how we battled tonight.”
The Broncs are back at it again this upcoming week, opening MAAC play against Siena on Sept. 16 at 2 p.m., and taking on La Salle on Sept. 19 at 5 p.m., both matches taking place at Ben Cohen Field.