POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – The Niagara men’s soccer team will play for its second-ever MAAC Championship and a chance to earn its first ever bid to the NCAA Tournament as the league's champion on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN3 after dropping the second-seeded Siena on Thursday evening.
The Purple Eagles (12-5-1; 6-1-1 MAAC) advanced as a result of a Darren Cooper goal 15 seconds into overtime. After seeing their 1-0 lead squandered late in the second half, the Purple Eagles had to battle into extra time for the seventh time this season, but Niagara wasted no time in getting redemption from the team’s only loss during the regular season that came against Siena.
Cooper received a ball from Nick Garcia and dribbled into the Saint’s defensive end before chipping the ball from 30-yards out over the outstretched hands of Siena goalkeeper Damian Liesmann. This was the rookie’s second game-winning goal of the season, and he wrapped up the game with a season-high three point night (1-1-3).
Neither team saw many scoring opportunities in the opening 45 minutes of play, as the Purps and Saints (10-7; 6-2 MAAC) each had four looks on goal. Liesmann had to be solid between the posts as the three Purple Eagle shots that were on target were quality chances.
Callum Willmott had a golden opportunity to pull the team ahead with a little over two minutes remaining in the first half. Ryan Merrifield played a great ball from the midfield to the streaking Willmott who ripped a shot a few steps outside of the box, but Liesmann deflected the scoring attempt over the net.
After a scoreless 77 minutes, two quick goals were tallied in a 28 second span late in the second stanza. Niagara was the first to get on the board, breaking the deadlock and taking the 1-0 lead at the 78th minute off the foot of Roberto Andersson A corner kick feed from Bryan Da Cruz as knocked around in the box before Darren Cooper pounced on the loose ball. The shot was blocked, but Andersson was waiting for the rebound and buried one past Liesmann for his second goal of the season.
The one-goal advantage lasted barely a minute as the Saints came right back and tallied the equalizer 28 seconds later. Matt Hemsley took a pass from James Beeston wide right off the ensuing kickoff, and took on three NU defenders before slipping a low shot near post under NU keeper Brett Petricek.
Despite the result, the contest ended with Siena outshooting Niagara by a slim 15-12 margin. Petricek finished the game with four saves for Niagara, while Liesmann tallied five saves in his 90 minutes of work.
Niagara will play the winner of the tournament's second semifinal between fourth-seeded Iona and first-seeded Loyola.