Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium was left with nothing but heartbreak on Saturday, Nov. 6, when the Stony Brook men’s soccer team was eliminated from the America East playoffs by the UMBC Retrievers on penalty kicks.
Stony Brook (8-6-1, 4-4 AE) entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed in its first winning season and playoff berth since 2018. UMBC (8-7-3, 3-4-1 AE) was the No. 5 seed and had lost to Stony Brook in the two teams’ regular-season meeting at Baltimore.
Part of what made this loss sting so hard for the Stony Brook faithful was how well the team played, mostly. The Seawolves dominated UMBC with over 60% of possession in regulation and had what felt like an endless number of chances. Great defense from the Retrievers’ backline and their senior goalkeeper, Quantrell Jones, kept Stony Brook’s offense at bay.
Jones finished the night with six saves and several other nice plays to boot. Stony Brook outshot UMBC 20-6, with 12 of those shots coming through the first 90 minutes.
The scoring started in the 54th minute when UMBC junior defender Julian Conze broke the ice following a handball call against Stony Brook. However, the Seawolves countered with their quickest answer of the year in a flukish manner. After a free kick by sophomore forward Selcuk Kahveci, the ball popped up into the air and deflected off of sophomore back Hans Nesheim and into the net for a goal. Stony Brook knotted the match back up at 1-1, trailing for just 63 seconds.
Stony Brook’s offense continued to connect on long passes downfield, but could not capitalize on their solid efforts. The game went to overtime, where the Seawolves outshot the Retrievers 6-1 but came up empty-handed. In double overtime, Stony Brook took two shots to UMBC’s one, yet sophomore forward Aki Solvason’s shot was saved by Jones with 1:29 left on the clock. The match wound up being a 1-1 tie, the first of the year for Stony Brook.
After 110 minutes, the draw had to be settled through a shootout, with the team that converted the most out of five penalty kicks moving on. Stony Brook brought in junior goalkeeper Curtis Copenhaver to defend the net, but he could not. Both teams went 5-for-5 and continued to go down the line.
With the tally up to 7-for-7 each, Stony Brook called upon freshman midfielder Bas Beckhoven for the eighth attempt, but a diving save by Jones gave UMBC the advantage. To add insult to injury, Jones was chosen to attempt the Retrievers’ eighth penalty kick, rifling one past the outstretched arms of a diving Copenhaver.
UMBC outlasted Stony Brook 8-7 in penalty kicks, the rest of the Retrievers storming the field and celebrating as the final congratulating announcements were made.
In an emotional scene, graduate midfielder and team captain Gabriel Fernandes burst into tears at midfield. All of his teammates came up to him and embraced him, as his long and accomplished career with the Stony Brook Seawolves ended.
Though a tough loss to take, the Seawolves exceeded all expectations. After dreadful 2019 and 2020 seasons, Stony Brook turned things around, earned votes in the national polls for a week, pulled off some upsets and hosted a playoff match, something which was not predicted as the Seawolves were projected to finish in eighth place.
“This year, I thought we made progress,” head coach Ryan Anatol said in a postgame press conference. “I thought there were some games that we did very well in. I thought we got better as the season went on. I thought we were as good as anybody in the conference … Every team in the conference tournament we beat, except for UNH, who we played with 10 men. We’ve got to be a little more consistent, but overall I thought it was a pretty positive season.”
Next year, Stony Brook will be without several key pieces, such as Fernandes, graduate midfielder Kori Cupid and several more. It will be seen what the offseason brings for the program. But for now, the underdog Seawolves proved they could and would have higher expectations for 2022.