Rams advance to A-10 semifinal

Men's soccer advanced to the A-10 semifinals beating George Mason in penalty kicks Nov. 8. Photo by Jon Mirador

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Trailing by two goals at the half in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinal Saturday night, men’s soccer found itself 45 minutes from its season ending. 

The Rams are no strangers to playing from behind this season — they’ve played seven overtime matches. 

“Look, this is not a new place for us,” coach Dave Giffard told his team at the half. “We’ll find the two goals, you just need to make sure we keep the zero here. Let’s not dig the hole deeper than it already is.”

In the Sept. 25 matchup with No. 24 Coastal Carolina, the Rams drew in overtime after falling behind early in the first half. Senior defender Ryo Shimazaki netted the equalizing goal for the Rams in the 86th minute against the Chanticleers. 

Leading into the quarterfinal, VCU and George Mason met a week prior, and the Rams won on an 83rd-minute strike from redshirt-junior forward Biska Biyombo. 

The Patriots scored both their goals in the first half on dynamic runs from their forwards, one off a rebound that junior goalkeeper Mario Sequeira couldn’t control. 

In the 68th minute, freshman forward Celio Pompeu cut the Patriots’ lead in half on a free kick.

The São Paulo, Brazil, native missed the entire regular season due to injury and did not practice much. His lack of practice and game experience showed in the first half, Giffard said. 

“It’s just a part of guys getting their feet wet and starting to figure out what they can and can’t do and get comfortable,” Giffard said. “I think he was just a little more comfortable when he came back on [in the second half].”

Giffard also called Pompeu a “game changer.”

Late in the match, the Rams were in all-out attack mode as they raced against the clock. The constant pressure from the black and gold kept the Patriots on their heels. 

In the 90th minute, the Rams drew a foul call in the box, sending Shimazaki to the penalty spot. Shimazaki tied the match as he converted the penalty kick, sending Sports Backers stadium wild. 

After 20 minutes of extra time, the Rams and Patriots were in a deadlock tie at two apiece, sending the match to penalty kicks. 

George Mason’s Pablo Pertusa Martinez sailed his penalty attempt over the crossbar, opening the door for the Rams to close out the game. Redshirt-freshman defender Jared Valdes buried his attempt and handed the black and gold the win.

The Rams advanced to the A-10 semifinals against Dayton in the Bronx on Friday.

“You find a way to advance,” Giffard said. “[The] guys believe a little bit more, they feel like they’re going to find a way. … [They] have a certain amount of belief inherently within the group that you just do the right things, we have players that can make plays and you find a way. 

Shimazaki tied the match for the Rams on Saturday night on a penalty kick, and the last time the Rams and Flyers met he ended it on an overtime penalty. 

The Rams found the way to win against the Patriots, despite falling behind early.

“We dug our own hole,” Giffard said, “but we filled it in pretty well.”

The Rams will face Dayton in the A-10 semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. at Fordham.

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