It took two overtimes, but the University of Rhode Island men’s soccer team (7-10-1) were able to defeat Duquesne University 2-1 on the road and earn themselves a spot in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
With their postseason destiny in their own hands, URI got on the scoreboard early in the first half when freshman defender Peder Kristiansen set up a free kick from just into Duquesne’s half of the field. Kristiansen launched a long ball into Duquesne’s box that found the head of junior defender Tyler Dickson right in the 10th minute for his first goal of the season. Rhode Island would hold the 1-0 lead going into halftime, but their opponents would come into the second half with a chip on their shoulder.
The pressure mounted for the Rams when Duquesne tied the score with a penalty kick just over nine minutes into the second half, which was finished confidently by the Dukes Bryan Fegley for the equalizer. The Rams and goalkeeper Nils Leifhelm did their job to keep the score equal and thwart an aggressive Duquesne attack, which included eight shots on goal.
The drama was enhanced as time expired with the score deadlocked, 1-1, putting URI in another late-game battle that could be representative of their season as a whole. Extra time was needed as the Rams continued to fight for their postseason lives, knowing a win would get them in.
The first half of overtime was a defensive battle with both sides taking chances, but neither able to find the net. With just over six minutes left in Rhode Island’s season, an opportunity arrived at the feet of freshman forward Stavros Zarokostas. URI’s leading scorer received a pass from Kristiansen just outside ten yards from the Dukes’ goal. He took on two defenders and curled a magical strike off of the outside of his foot into the bottom right corner of the net to extend the Rams’ season. Head coach Gareth Elliott expected nothing less from his freshman goal scorer who has been nothing short of clutch for the team this season.
“Stavros has been doing well, but he has been doing what we expect him to do which is play well, focus on attacking, work hard for the team, and it has meant a lot to us,” Elliott said. “But we expect this type of play from him.”
The victory not only pushed the Rams into postseason play, but moved them from the eighth seed up to the sixth. Zarokostas scored his seventh goal of the season, capping off a regular season that earned him A-10 Rookie of the Year honors. Kristiansen, who received All-Rookie Accolades, was credited with the game-winning assist, his second of the tense match. Elliott saw his team’s full character on display Saturday night.
“We showed a lot of heart and character against Duquesne,” Elliott said. “We got up a goal early in the game and were playing quite well until we gave up a penalty the start of the second half that shifted our momentum a bit. But we dug in and kept fighting to find a win in overtime so it was exciting.”
Rhode Island’s next challenge will be facing third-seeded La Salle who they lost 2-1 to earlier this season. The match is set for tomorrow night at 8 p.m. The A-10 tournament will be played at Davidson’s Alumni Soccer Stadium.
“La Salle is a team that likes to play very direct, they like to use a lot of set pieces, and get a lot of balls played in the box,” Elliott said. “If we can deal with the aerial threat that they pose I believe we have a good chance, especially if we play our game, just getting the ball on the ground and playing.”