The Montclair State University men’s soccer team will play in the conference tournament finals after defeating Rutgers University-Camden 2-1 at home.
The Red Hawks secured a first-round bye in the NJAC tournament after finishing first in the NJAC standings. They automatically made the semi-finals and waited for the winner of Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark.
They would ultimately face off against Rutgers-Camden in an action-packed, physical and exciting game with a spot in the finals on the line.
Rutgers-Camden opened up in a low block, looking to absorb pressure and hit on a counter-attack. This allowed Montclair State to dominate early on, outshooting their opponent 7-1 in the first 30 minutes.
The first Montclair State goal would come in the 12th minute from sophomore midfielder Amer Lukovic. After a beautiful long ball over the top by sophomore defender Ian Chesney, Lukovic did well to bring it down and fight off defenders. After whiffing on his initial shot, he tucked into the opposite corner and put the Red Hawks up 1-0.
“It’s a semifinal, everyone wants to play this game,” Lukovic said. “It’s hype, the fans are going crazy. And I enjoy playing in that type of atmosphere. I live up to that, I dream of that. So going out there and scoring for my team is the best thing I could do and it happened.”
After the first goal, Rutgers-Camden changed its tactics and shifted into a mid-block and began pressing. This allowed Montclair State to move the ball all over the field, and open up their opponent.
Montclair State dominated in the first half, ending with a 1-0 lead, a 10-1 advantage in shots and a clear advantage in possession.
The second half began with a wild play that saw the Montclair State keeper collide with a Rutgers-Camden forward inside the box. This resulted in a penalty for Rutgers-Camden which was confidently put away by senior midfielder Christian McCartney putting the score at 1-1.
The game would take a physical turn in the second half, with a lot of hard tackles and some skirmishes between the teams. However, the Red Hawks were able to look past the antics and maintain their composure. Freshman midfielder Chris Fontanazza commented on this.
“Our coach just told us to stay composed,” Fontanazza said. “They’re going to be hitting us, whacking us. But as long as we stayed composed and played our game we were going to come out with the victory because they couldn’t handle us.”
Montclair State would dominate the second half despite the score line. They would score the game-winning goal in the 79th minute, yet again by Lukovic. After an initial pass by Fontanazza, senior forward Janbi Kaghado played a pass onto the foot of Lukovic. After taking a touch, Lukovic finessed it past the keeper and found the back of the net putting the score at 2-1.
The goal erupted the fans at MSU Soccer Park and sent the team into a frenzy. The Red Hawks would hold onto the lead and win the game 2-1. They move on to the final where they will face a familiar foe at Rowan University.
The two teams have some recent history, as Rowan knocked out Montclair State last year in the tournament semifinals. The chance at redemption is mouth-watering to Montclair State.
“[I’m] very excited,” Fontanazza said. “Last year something happened, and we are going to look past that. But we’re getting our payback now and it’s our time to win that.”
The feeling was similar to that of Lukovic, who before even being asked a question opened with a confident “We’re gonna get ’em.” He had more to say after being asked about the matchup.
“Payback basically,” Lukovic said. “That’s what it is. They’re going to come here and we’re going to try our best to [beat] them.”
Montclair State has their dream matchup with Rowan in the finals, and with a chance at redemption, the game promises to be exciting.