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Da Cruz golden as Niagara wins MAAC title, heads to Big Dance

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Niagara University men’s soccer had never won a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title since joining the conference in 1989, but the streak has been broken with tonight’s 1-0 double-overtime win over Loyola (Md.) in Poughkeepsie.

Senior forward Bryan Da Cruz smacked an outside of the foot shot past Loyola keeper Thurman Van Riper in the 102nd minute for the ‘golden goal’ to crown the Purple Eagles and solidify an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

Tearing off his jersey and sprinting to goalie Brett Petricek in jubilation, Da Cruz then jogged to the MAAC Championship trophy on the sideline with his teammates close behind. It was a sweet taste of triumph for Chase Brooks’ Purple Eagles.

Just two minutes into the second overtime, Da Cruz collected the ball 30 yards from goal, picked his head up, laid the ball forward to fellow attacker Ken Cooper, who flicked the ball back into a sprinting Da Cruz’s path on a give-and-go. With his first touch, Da Cruz bent his right-footed shot inside Van Riper’s near post, toppling the dreams of the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

MAAC Goalkeeper of the Year Petricek and Defender of the Year Rene De Zorzi were superb again just two nights after nudging past No. 2 seed Siena on freshman Darren Cooper’s overtime goal. Petricek was challenged regularly in the first half, as Loyola’s powerful freshman striker Larry Ndjock created several quality chances and Stephen Dooley and Connor Thompson were menacing on the flanks. Despite standing only 6’1, Petricek challenged crosses into his penalty area with confidence and aggression while darting off his line in the first half to smother a Ndjock breakaway.

Still, it was the Purple Eagles’ back line of De Zorzi, Roberto Andersson, Nick Garcia and Michael Hanton who absorbed the Greyhounds pressure by winning nearly every aerial challenge inside the 18-yard box and delivering several sure, clean challenges. The Greyhounds had few clear-cut chances.

In the first overtime, however, the Purple Eagles dodged a bullet as Loyola midfielder Hector Arellano struck a loose ball wide of Petricek’s target just five yards from goal. Niagara had nearly ended the match a few minutes earlier, as a free kick 19 yards from goal was curled less than a foot over the crossbar by Da Cruz.

To determine the Purple Eagles’ next opponent, a selection show will take place on Monday on NCAA.com. First round matches are scheduled for Nov. 15 at campus sites. See this page for more info.

Congratulations to the Niagara Purple Eagles men’s soccer team for its first ever conference crown and trip to the national tournament!

TAGGED: chase brooks, loyola greyhounds, maac soccer, niagara purple eagles, rene de zorzi

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