Rowan Men’s Soccer gears up for the NJAC playoffs

The team huddles before a match. Rowan went 6-2-1 in conference games this season. - Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. - Photo via Lee Kotzen

Last season, the Rowan men’s soccer team went into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title game as the underdogs against Montclair State. Despite this, the Profs dominated and won 3-0, and have put themselves in a position to make another deep postseason run.

This season started off with a couple of wins and a bunch of ties that stacked up early. Through the first five games, the Profs were 1-0-4. Now, head coach Scott Baker’s team has ended up with a 7-3-1 record in their last 11 games to round out the regular season with an 8-3-5 record.

Baker comments on the early season’s close games and what sets them apart from a lot of the other teams they have played this season.

“The biggest key for us has been to stick to what we know, and that’s to get on the scoreboard first and hold the other team off. We have done a great job in the second half, which is something we did last year as well and we are up there with any team when it comes to talent and work ethic,” Baker said.

The Profs are looking forward to the playoffs, as they hold the second seed in the NJAC with a 6-2-1 conference record, with their two conference losses coming against the top-seeded Montclair State Red Hawks and Kean University Cougars.

At this point last season, the Profs were 8-4-6 and getting ready to play against the sixth-seeded New Jersey City University (NJCU) Gothic Knights in the first round of the tournament. Johnny Troiano, the leading Profs’ leading scorer this season (with 15 goals), believes that this team can make the same noise in the NJAC playoffs.

“We are capable of performing with any team and we have shown it down the stretch. Staying in the lead against teams of our caliber is the reason we didn’t get the first seed,” Troiano said. “Losing to Montclair State at home was the one game looking back that we completely let get away from us, but we know what happened last year in the championship game, and hopefully if we meet them again the same result will follow.”

Troiano also believes that missed opportunities have haunted the Profs, especially at the start of the season, and talks about why those plays matter even more entering the postseason.

“Not capitalizing inside the 18 has been our biggest problem. Having a fast break opportunity turn into an open shot miss is so frustrating, and it happened a lot in early September,” Troiano said. “I’m glad that we have been able to attack teams more consistently and have let our defense do the rest of the work keeping teams outside of the box almost completely.”

While this year’s team has a better record than last year’s squad, Coach Baker doesn’t see much of a difference in play.

“I think the only major difference might be different names in the lineup. Our team on both sides plays identical to last season, but new players have stepped up,” Baker said. “Johnny was a big player for us last season, but has adapted into our power player role. Davide [Caputo] with his small frame and quick  speed has set us up for huge finishes inside the box, and our defense all the way back to Dylan [Aportela] in the goal has been stellar which is again crucial to us winning these games.”

With the help of Montclair State taking down Kean in their final regular season game, as well as the Profs taking down Stockton, the Profs have secured a first-round bye and will play the winner of the third vs. six-seed matchup in the NJAC semifinals. Last season, the Profs took on Ramapo on the road and battled the Roadrunners for 90 minutes, eventually winning 3-1 in penalty kicks.

Rowan goalkeeper Dylan Aportela talked about what the teams mindset is going to have to be like against NJAC rivals in the tournament, including first-seeded Montclair State. 

“We have to go out and play physically and try to make plays that are best for us,” Aportela said. “Keeping the ball on our side of the goal is something that is dangerous for any team. Sometimes I make a read on a ball that is risky but with the help of my unit in front of me I have the courage to make some of the plays that other teams wouldn’t attempt to make.”

The Profs’ journey to back-to-back NJAC titles begins on Wednesday, Nov. 1 in Glassboro, where they will welcome either Kean University or Rutgers-Camden.

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