The Suffolk University Men's Soccer team captured the 2010 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship on Saturday afternoon topping the Albertus Magnus Falcons, 2-1 in New Haven, Connecticut. With the victory the Rams will now make an appearance in the NCAA Division-III Men's Soccer Tournament that will begin on November 11.
Suffolk entered the tournament with the number four seed after finishing the GNAC season with a 5-3-1 record in conference play. Albertus (6-2-1 GNAC) was the number two seed going into the finals, as their season record falls to 15-5-1.
The Rams scored both of their goals within five minutes of each other in the first half and freshman Matt Esposito (Wallingford, Conn.) continued his strong play stopping eight of nine shots for Suffolk as they move to an 11-7-1 record on the season.
Suffolk got on the board first in the game's twentieth minute as sophomore Ben Rollins (Lee, N.H.) struck for his eighth goal of the season. Rollins took advantage of an Albertus defensive misplay at 20:30, scoring into an open net via a pass from sophomore David Best (Westminster, Mass.) to make it 1-0. Just over four minutes later, Suffolk found the goal once again as junior Nick Cugine (Ridgefield, Conn.) finished a gorgeous feed from senior Luis Flores (Madrid, Spain), and the Rams took a 2-0 lead.
Albertus would have plenty of chances in the first half outshooting the Rams, 16-4 in the period but Esposito kept the Rams afloat holding off all Falcons scoring chances and was aided with a little luck. Albertus appeared poised to cut the lead in half late in the opening half when Falcon junior forward Jamal Howard (West Haven, Conn.) made a spectacular individual play and fired a shot that beat Esposito, but hit the inside of the left post and bounced away to preserve the 2-0 score.
Albertus Magnus finally found the scoreboard just over 13 minutes into the second half when sophomore Steven Zapata (Hamden, Conn.) connected on a free kick from more than 30 yards out to make it 2-1. That would be all the Suffolk defense would surrender as the Rams tightened, allowing the Falcons only five second half shots, and very few scoring chances during the remainder of the game.
For his efforts Rollins was named GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player. Rollins finished the three-game tournament with two goals and an assist. He had a goal and an assist in Wednesday's 2-1 victory over top-seeded Lasell College in the semi-finals. Rollins could be the key contributor to turning the Suffolk season around as the sophomore forward missed seven games this season with a shoulder injury. During that stretch the Rams offense only mustered eight goals. Since returning the Rams have gone 5-1 with him in the lineup and have outscored their opponents 17-7. Rollins has scored six goals in his six games back on the field.
Best was also an All-Tournament selection for Suffolk. Best recorded his first point of the season tallying an assist on Rollins' goal to open the scoring on Saturday, but the junior midfielder made what perhaps was the biggest defensive play of the season in the GNAC Quarterfinals. With a 1-0 lead over Emerson, the Lions had a chance to tie the game with ten minutes remaining as the GNAC's leading scorer Jacob Lawrence (Clifton, Va.) had a wide open goal, but Best made the play of the evening kicking the goal out his own net before the ball could cross over the line to preserve the victory and allow the Rams to advance. Best was also a third team All-Conference selection by the GNAC this season.
Cugine was also named to the All-Tournament team as he netted what turned out to be the game-winning goal on Saturday. Cugine also picked up an assist earlier in the week. Junior Danny Lloyd (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) was the fourth All-Tournament selection for the Rams. Lloyd's lone point of the tournament came as he had an assist on Suffolk's lone goal in Saturday's Quarterfinals win over Emerson, but the junior forward led the team with 13 shots in the three games.
Suffolk now earns an automatic qualification into the NCAA Men's Soccer Tournament. It will be the program's first appearance in the 60-team single elimination tournament. The Rams will be playing Williams College with a date and time to be determined on a conference call on Tuesday.