Men’s soccer poses with their second trophy in two years. Photo courtesy of Ram Athletics.

It’s always better when things come in pairs.

The University of Rhode Island men’s soccer team won the Atlantic 10 tournament on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Dayton Flyers 1-0. It’s the second straight year they won the tournament, and the second straight year they received an automatic bid into the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship. 

Rhody was matched up with the Syracuse Orange out of the ACC, who received an at-large bid into the tournament and will host the first-round game. It will be the first time the two schools will ever compete against one another on the soccer field. 

The Orange compiled a 7-6-5 record this season, but played a tough schedule that included 10 games against fellow tournament teams. In those games, the Orange went 1-4-5.

URI finished the season 14-3-3, including the regular season and postseason conference titles. Since losing to Saint Louis at the end of September, the team is 10-1-0, including postseason play. 

They swept aside Davidson 7-3 in the A-10 quarterfinals before surviving a nervy penalty shootout against Fordham in the semifinals. After a scoreless regulation and overtime period, Rhody won that shootout 7-6 after nine rounds, with Goalkeeper Stefan Schmidt making three saves. 

With the season on the line, the unpredictable nature of a penalty shootout left Head Coach Gareth Elliott uneasy on the sidelines. 

“I don’t know what my heart rate was at that point, but I was definitely on the edge,” he said. “Credit to our players, who did a great job of stepping up and hitting their pk’s.”

The Rams then shutout the league-leading scorers, Dayton, winning the contest 1-0. Edvin Akselsen received the ball on the right side of the box, and got around his defender to fire low into the far side of the goal. It was his fourth goal of the season, and all that was needed to decide the outcome of the match. 

Schmidt, Akselsen, Peder Kristiansen and Midfielder Ludvik Benco were named to the All-Championship team for their efforts throughout the tournament. Benco received the award for the Most Outstanding Player of the A-10 Championship. 

For now, though, it is onto the Syracuse Orange. 

“We need to prepare as well as we can to go up there and play against a good Syracuse team,” said Eliott. 

“It’s an ACC school, so we’re just looking to get after it and hopefully get a dub (win) against them,” said Senior Lucas Gesmundo. 

Rhode Island suffered a 4-3 overtime defeat to UConn in last year’s NCAA tournament, in which they led the Huskies 3-1 late in the second half. The defeat has been in the back of the player’s minds all season, and has been used as fuel for this year’s run. 

“I really think last year was a little disappointing,” said Captain Stavros Zarokostas. “We definitely wanted to get a little further than the first round. I think that disappointment is gonna carry us through. We’re gonna play with a little more passion, a little more emotion, and that has been working for us really well.” 

Gesmundo said the experience was not only a learning opportunity, but also served as motivation throughout the season. 

“It showed that we’re capable of competing in any game,” he said. “We just want to take that game and use it as motivation and revenge to get back and show that we can make a good run in the NCAA tournament.”