As soon as overtime drew to a close, Stony Brook Men’s Soccer began its celebration. The regular season was over, the match between Stony Brook and UMBC on Wednesday, Oct. 31 was decided at 2-2 and the team was officially the America East regular season champion.
“Oh, it’s a huge deal,” senior midfielder Martieon Watson said about securing the regular season crown. “It’s a huge deal. Not only to get some momentum going into the semifinals, but the first seed is a home game. And in this America East a home game is a huge advantage. Our home crowd with us, the field that we’re familiar with, it’s a huge deal for us. Getting the number one seed is a step in the right direction to winning the tournament.”
Senior midfielder Serge Gamwanya echoed his teammate’s statement.
“Yeah, you can’t say it better than that,” Gamwanya said. “Being at home is something that every team wants to have, and not just in semifinals. We are happy we’re in this place, but we know that the work is not done yet, and we’re gonna do everything we can to get in that final.”
Watson and Gamwanya were both honored before the game as the Seawolves congratulated their senior class. Watson, the team’s captain, tallied seven assists this season, more than double any other player on the roster. Gamwanya tied for the team lead in goals with six, including three game-winning goals.
To claim the title, one of two things had to go the Seawolves’ way. They could secure it themselves with a win or tie against UMBC, or Vermont could lose to New Hampshire. Both ended up happening, and the Seawolves were aware that the title was theirs heading into overtime.
“When it [went to] overtime, Coach called us over,” Watson said. “He told us we just had a result for us in the other game, with Vermont and UNH, and he told us that UNH won the match. So he told us that we have nothing to lose going into the rest of overtime, just go out and try to win the game.”
Stony Brook nearly won in the second overtime period. Redshirt-sophomore midfielder Gabriel Fernandes broke through the defense in the 108th minute, juking out the goalkeeper and putting the ball into the corner of the net. Unfortunately for Fernandes, the play was whistled dead on an offside call.
To get to overtime, the Seawolves had an up and down game regulation. Freshman striker Jack Valderrabano had a couple of opportunities in the first 15 minutes of the first half, but couldn’t get either of his shots in the goal. Both teams went scoreless in the first period, but came out stronger after halftime.
Stony Brook opened the scoring floodgates first, finding an opportunity in the 51st minute. Watson found junior striker Jarred Dass in front of the net and Dass beat the goalie one on one to get the home team on the board. Three minutes later, Dass set up junior midfielder Mark Irvine for a shot that floated just beyond the reach of UMBC’s freshman goalkeeper Quantrell Jones.
The Retrievers responded quickly, cutting into the deficit in the 55th minute. A foul in the box rewarded senior midfielder James Gielen with a penalty kick. Gielen drilled it inside of the right goal post, shifting momentum right back to UMBC. Junior midfielder Nick Gumbs found the equalizer in the 63rd minute, breaking away from the defense and getting one past freshman goalkeeper Christian Miesch.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game, they came out and did a good job defensively,” head coach Ryan Anatol said. “They were trying to press us and make it difficult for us to play, we knew there was going to be quite a bit of space in behind them. Was a little disappointed after being up two to not put the lead away, but overall the guys battled. I think at times, a little timid with the situation, but I think it’s understandable. It’s good preparation for the upcoming games.”
The program secured its second number one seed in three years by claiming the outright regular season title. It is also the first year ever that both the men’s and women’s soccer programs claimed the regular season championship in the same year.
“It’s a great year for both programs, great year for the university,” Anatol said. “I think it shows what a commitment the athletic department has put into the soccer programs, and put both programs in a position to be successful. A lot of credit to the players, they came out and worked all year. We’ve been close on a few occasions, but to get it done… really, really excited and happy for them.”
Stony Brook could see UMBC again in the semifinals, as they await the winner of the UMBC/Vermont quarterfinal match. The victor will travel to meet the Seawolves on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.