Montclair lost to Rutgers-Camden in a thrilling and frenetic NJAC tournament final, falling 5-4 on penalties after regulation and ended 0-0 in overtime.
The ball seemed destined to stay out of the net, as both teams combined for 45 total shots, while standout freshman Mike Saalfrank had eight saves. Meanwhile, two Camden keepers combined for 14 saves. The Scarlet Raptors of Camden secured an automatic bid into the NCAA men’s soccer tournament, while Montclair State secured a bid Sunday night.
The game seemed to be even, with both teams employing different tactics to suit their players. Rutgers possessed the ball high up the field and moved the ball from side to side. The Scarlet Raptors’ patience and technique was both obvious and impressive.
Montclair State looked to use its pace and the wide expanses of Pitser field to play on the counter, looking to use First-Team All-NJAC striker Mike Olla’s speed as an outlet. The Red Hawks created a couple half chances in the first half, while the Scarlet Raptors waited until the final minute of the first half to really test Saalfrank.
With the clock running down, Camden midfielder Grant Taylor drove from the middle of the pitch and unleashed a knuckling shot from 25 yards out. The shot stung the right post and rolled to safety as time expired.
The second half featured end-to-end action from both sides. The substitute keeper for Rutgers, Brett James, was outstanding, particularly when he came out early when Olla was through on goal and jumped to smother his attempted chip shot. Late in regulation, both sides almost scored within 40 seconds.
A Hendrickson cross fell to Damian Bziukiewicz 16 yards from goal on the right side when he took a touch and fired a half volley across the face of goal. The ball struck the inside of the post and bounced to a Scarlet Raptors defender, whose clearance started a counterattack. Star Rutgers striker Mike Ryan found himself 15 yards from goal in a central position and his hard low strike was clawed out of the bottom left corner in specatucular fashion by Saalfrank.
Later, Ryan also struck the frame of the goal with a bullet header and was unlucky to not have scored. The game ended 0-0 and both teams lined up for penalties.
Centerback Joe Barrajos was up first, but he saw his poor penalty saved by James. Connor Ruff strode up confidently and sent Saalfrank the wrong way, putting Camden up 1-0. Next, Rob Chernez converted an excellent penalty for the Red Hawks while Camden matched them, moving the score to 2-1. Both teams converted again and, in the next round, Saalfrank made an excellent save on Mike Ryan. Kyle Goodwin converted an unorthodox penalty, rifling the ball with the outside of his boot past a diving James and into the bottom left corner, evening the score at 3-3.
Next, Aaron Muse of Camden drilled his penalty off the left post. With a chance to win, Olla rocketed his penalty over the crossbar. Both teams converted again, evening the score at 4-4. Feli Csombok hit his penalty confidently into the roof of the net. Up stepped freshman Kevin Simek, who shot his penalty left of center, but James was there to stop it and seal the championship for Camden.
A lot of credit is due to the Red Hawks team, which is currently ranked sixth in the nation and no. 1 in the region despite missing All-American Lucas Terci and centerback Michael Czyrneck for the whole season. Mike Olla and Mike Taranto missed time as well.
The starting lineup included five freshman (Rafael Terci, Kevin Simek, Matt Hendrickson, Mike Saalfrank and Rob Chernez), all of whom performed incredibly. Coach Todd Tumelty has shown impressive foresight and trust in his young players.
Montclair kicks off Saturday night at 5 p.m. against Daniel Webster College in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Montclair State Soccer Park.