For the fourth season in a row, the Rowan men’s soccer team is heading to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship game and continues the quest for back-to-back NJAC titles after taking down the Kean Cougars 1-0 in the semifinals on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
There was no shortage of action in the NJAC semifinal, as the game kicked off with both sides going back and forth on the attack. However, both teams were struggling to sneak a shot past freshman goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon of the Profs and junior goalkeeper Dominic Ridge of the Cougars.
Scanlon faced a couple of tough shots throughout the second half, but he was able to get his hands on it every time to secure the clean sheet in his first career start for the Profs.
Head coach Scott Baker is not satisfied, and has his sights set on the championship game this upcoming Saturday, Nov. 4.
“We need a winning spirit. We can play and can play hard. We can play as best as possible, but in these postseason games, if we don’t win it doesn’t matter how good we play,” Baker said. “Being able to close the game down, and getting the shutout, all those things help out.”
Although this was Scanlon’s first start, it was his fifth career collegiate appearance. The freshman faced five shots and two shots on goal, and was able to shut down a Kean team that only had one loss on the season coming into the game; one week prior on Oct. 25 against No. 1 seed Montclair State.
Scanlon detailed his emotions throughout the contest, specifically the final minute when Rowan closed it out.
“The last-minute ticking down felt surreal,” Scanlon said. “I couldn’t believe it in my heart, but I knew the team had what it takes to walk away with the win and that’s what happened.”
Rowan’s usual starting goalkeeper Dylan Aportela was sidelined with an apparent ankle injury which set the stage for Scanlon. Baker shed light on the tough break with Aportela being unavailable but expressed confidence in Scanlon’s abilities.
“Dylan’s got an injury to his ankle and that’s a loss for us, but Charlie Scanlon is great,” Baker said. “He did a great job today. He has played in games for us before. One player is down, another one has to step up. We believe in Charlie and he did that tonight,” Baker said.
Coming out of halftime, Rowan got on the attack and capitalized on a free kick attempt from senior midfielder Luke Yates, a boot that set up a headbutt from senior Sergio Sola Garcia in the 54 minute that found the back right corner of the net, allowing the Profs to take a 1-0 lead.
The goal was Sola Garcia’s fifth of the season. According to the senior, all credit goes to the setup from Yates.
“I always try to be in the right spot, and sometimes you just aren’t exactly where the ball lands. Tonight I was,” Sola Garcia said. “I saw it coming off the foot of Luke [Yates] and went with everything I had, and I scored.”
Sola Garcia made the play of the game and put his body on the line. He’s been battling a shoulder injury for about a week and spoke about how he’s been able to push through it.
“Unfortunately I sprained my shoulder on Friday last week, but I knew with a couple days of rest it still was gonna be painful,” Sola Garcia said. “I was gonna push through it. And after this game it hurts, but I have a couple days to recover and get ready for the next game on Saturday.”
The Profs outshot the Cougars 13-5 and had five shots on goal compared to two for Kean. Rowan had a couple of chances to strike early in the first half, but couldn’t convert. Specifically, one golden opportunity that was missed was from sophomore Johnny Troiano on a penalty kick that Ridge saved diving to his right, keeping the game scoreless.
Baker touched on the team’s approach coming out of the first half, specifically their overall scheme and pace.
“We have played well on the attack as of late, and it’s something that should have happened a little bit earlier in the season,” Baker said. “It’s just about getting on the board first, and that’s what we did. Out of half to capitalize on a free kick was critical, and honestly, we should have won by three or four. But little mistakes made this game a lot closer than it actually was.”
This win now sets Rowan up for a rematch of last year’s NJAC Championship, as they will take on the Montclair State Red Hawks on the road on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. The Profs will look to repeat what they accomplished last year and become back-to-back NJAC champions.