NCAA, Soccer, Sports

Men’s soccer secures Patriot League Championship over Lafayette

The Boston University men’s soccer team is headed to the NCAA Men’s College Cup after downing Lafayette College 1-0 on Saturday to win the Patriot League Championship for the first time since joining the league.

Boston University sophomore defender John Roman works the ball around Lafayette junior midfielder Carter Houlihan during the Patriot League Championship game on Saturday. The Terriers clinched the Championship, beating Lafayette 1-0. HALEY ALVAREZ-LAUTO/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

It was a predictably intense clash between the remaining two teams, both riding five-game unbeaten streaks. The Terriers (12-3-4, 7-1-1 Patriot League) held the one seed, and the Leopards (9-6-6, 4-2-3 PL) were the only conference team to hand them a loss from a 2-0 result on Oct. 14.

“Today’s a special moment, and I’m really proud of [the guys]. I’m really proud to be part of this,” head coach Kevin Nylen said. “Today’s a good day to be a BU Terrier.”

The first half, despite its flashes of chances for both teams, remained in a scoreless stalemate with generally equal possession figures, placing the fate of the final in the next 45 minutes.

From the Terriers’ standpoint, little needed to change from the first half, but they had to find a weak spot in the Leopards’ defense. Nylen elected to make his first pair of substitutions entering the second half.

“We were pleased with the first half… and then in the second half, we figured it would open up a little bit,” Nylen said.

It was senior midfielder Aidan Bone off the bench who, receiving a pass in the midfield, took a couple touches to find senior forward Eitan Rosen ready to receive on the edge of the 18-yard box.

This spot has been comfortable for Rosen in the past, but despite the spatial similarity, this precise opportunity in this specific game was weighted with extra pressure. Regardless, Rosen used his right foot to force a bending shot between two defenders to land just inside the far post for the game’s single, decisive mark in the 65th minute.

“I have faith that I’m going to get that moment,” Rosen said. “I think the guys have a lot of faith in me that if I get that ball there, I’m going to do that.”

The significance of the opening goal became even clearer as Lafayette senior forward and leading goalscorer Hale Lombard became visibly frustrated, attempting to provoke the home fans, forcing a confrontation from the official as well as inciting some words from BU’s Rosen, resulting in yellow cards for the opposing pair of players.

“One of the main things we say is ‘Protect home,’” Rosen said. “[I was able] to maintain my composure and, in that stage of the game, we have the crowd on our side. So if he wants to go at them, then I will be right there to defend our fans 100 percent.”

The Terriers kept their cool through the heightened intensity of the match and limited Lombard to just a single shot on the day, something only two teams accomplished all season.

The degree of fortification of the BU defensive unit has been built up over the past couple of seasons, grounded by two-time Defensive Player of the Year, senior Griffin Roach, and two-time Goalkeeper of the Year, senior Francesco Montali.

“Once [we] get the ball up to our best attacking players in the final third, a little magic happens,” said Montali. “Me and Griff said before the game [that] if we don’t concede, we win this game … that’s exactly what happened.”

For the last 30 minutes of the Patriot League season, BU leaned on its ability to not concede to hold on to its one-goal advantage. The Terriers had to face more set-piece opportunities from Lafayette, the Terriers’ main Achilles’ heel in their earlier regular season meeting.

They had no trouble doing so in this matchup, working through a few more corners and down to the final seconds to earn the right to call themselves not only regular season champions, but also owners of the Patriot League tournament title.

The program has undergone a rebuild since Nylen joined four seasons ago, finishing eighth of 10 in the fall 2021 season before elevating to being a two-seed with a bitter semifinal exit in 2022. All progress pointed to this season, with plenty of milestones and both team and individual accolades, culminating in the Terriers’ lifting of the conference trophy in front of a packed Nickerson crowd for the first time in 15 years.

“We’ve said this since November 2022 that this was the job, to finish it off,” Nylen said. “The guys have been disciplined … [It’s] a testament to their work ethic, a testament to their abilities.”

The recognition of Rosen as tournament MVP was a highlight of the postgame celebrations as he joined Montali, Roach and graduate student midfielder Colin Innes on the All-Tournament team.

The NCAA Men’s College Cup Bracket Selection Show will take place on Nov. 13, where the Terriers will find out what their extended path of the 2023 season will look like before the first round on Nov. 16, but for now they get to soak in the magnitude of their win.

“Every game here on out is [like] a final,” Nylen said. “If I know our guys, we’ll be ready.”

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