What went right for both soccer teams in the MAAC quarterfinals this weekend

Riley Millette, Sports Editor

What a weekend it was for Quinnipiac soccer.

Both the men’s and women’s teams played their MAAC tournament quarterfinals games this weekend, and both came out on top by a score of 1-0.

The No. 2 women’s soccer team played on Saturday, a 70-degree day without a cloud in the sky until the game concluded. The No. 1 men’s team didn’t get as lucky, as its kickoff on Sunday at 3 p.m. was met with gray skies and rain showers. Nonetheless, both teams ended with the same result.

The men will host the No. 5 Fairfield Stags, who beat the No. 4 Saint Peter’s Peacocks 1-0 (a lot of games end 1-0 in the MAAC for some reason) in its semifinal game on Wednesday afternoon. But unfortunately for the women’s team, it already played its semifinal game on Monday against Monmouth, losing 2-0.

Sophomore forward David Bercedo scored the game-winning goal in the 78th minute of the MAAC quarterfinal on Sunday. (Morgan Tencza)

The men’s soccer team (6-1 overall) has turned its impressive season into a top seed and a postseason run. This is a massive improvement over last year’s competition, as the Bobcats took a tumble out of the tournament in the first round at the hands of the Iona Gaels.

Quinnipiac men’s soccer coach Eric Da Costa emphasized the team’s strengths going into its next game against Fairfield.

“We think we’re good at possessing the ball and creating chances and just trust that and stick to it,” Da Costa said. “And I saw some great composure from them.”

That’s exactly what the Bobcats displayed in their quarterfinal game. The final score wasn’t exactly indicative of the game script, as they piled on the shots in the second half. They had eight shots in the first half and a whopping 16 in the second half, while the Saints only had five the entire game. The Bobcats controlled the possession for the majority of the game, which showed in the box stats.

Senior midfielder Simon Hillinger was a big part of the team’s success after he was subbed on in the second half, as he was a major facilitator through the middle of the field. A big part of the Bobcats’ attack is speed down the wings, primarily through the quick sophomore forward Brage Aasen. Stick the 6-foot-4 sophomore defender Henry Weigand in the box to receive a cross, and it’s pretty tough to stop.

“It’s really difficult to penetrate through the middle,” Da Costa said. “So you have to go outside in, and the boys recognize that and we played to it and it’s how you get around the team that’s playing in behind the ball.”

Hillinger is a perfect compliment to that. If the Bobcats were to match up against an opponent with outside backs who can keep up with Aasen, Hillinger would bring the slow, calculated approach of stringing passes through the defense instead of the smashmouth crossing style that Weigand and Aasen have mastered.

But the Bobcats found the game-saving production from elsewhere on the pitch. Sophomore forward David Bercedo scored the only goal in the victory in the 78th minute, receiving a pass from defender Domen Bozic around 15 yards out, spinning on his weak foot and lofting a finish into the top corner.

Bercedo was one of the best players on the pitch during the game, constantly finding space around defenders and winning tackles in crucial spots. After chipping away at the backline for nearly 80 minutes, Bercedo finally found the back of the net.

Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they got a tough draw against the Fairfield Stags. This is a strong defensive team that has played seven games this year and only allowed six goals, the second-best in the MAAC behind the Rider Broncs, who have only played four games.

But then of course, it’s probably tough for the Bobcats to be intimidated by any defense thrown at them. The team leads the MAAC in goals with 16, tied with Niagara who has played one more game. Quinnipiac is first in the MAAC in goals per game with 2.29. The No. 1 Bobcats have played soccer that’s worthy of the No. 1 seed, and it would be difficult to imagine any team knocking them off. They’re well-balanced on both sides of the ball and are hungry after their first-round exit last year.

During the same weekend, the women’s soccer team won their quarterfinal game as well, playing to their No. 2 seed against Fairfield, a team consistently ranked among the top of the MAAC preseason polls. The game went into double overtime, as freshman forward Rebecca Cooke scored the game-winning goal in golden-goal play.

Cooke showed great poise, managing to stay onside while receiving a peach of a header from senior forward Kelsey Goldring. Cooke took the ball all the way to the penalty spot, outrunning all defenders in her area, then drew the goalkeeper off her line. Cooke calmly cut around the diving set of gloves, finishing with her left foot to end the game.

Freshman goalkeeper Sofia Lospinoso made seven saves in the game, keeping the Bobcats in it. When it seemed like the Stags were ready to break the scoreless tie, Lospinoso came up in a huge way.

But the team’s semifinal game on Monday was a different story. It was scoreless going into the half, but it couldn’t hold on for the win. The Hawks came out and scored in the 47th minute, and the Bobcats had no answer. The Hawks scored the clincher in the 87th minute, punching their ticket to the MAAC championship on Friday on the back of the 2-0 win.

The Quinnipiac women’s soccer team lost in the MAAC semifinal 2-0 against Monmouth on Monday. (Connor Lawless)

A big issue for the Bobcats was clock stoppage. They committed 21 fouls in this game, compared to the Hawks’ nine. Committing a foul not only lets the opposing team collect their breath and run a designed play that they’ve practiced at a pace that’s slower than game speed, but it also makes the Bobcats act with a little more caution.

Before the 80th minute, sophomore defender Kayla Mingachos, junior forward Emily Loney and Goldring were all issued yellow cards. The Bobcats were trying to make a push to even the game, but they were without some of their star pieces. Head coach Dave Clarke subbed off Loney six minutes after she earned the yellow card to avoid the risk of a red card, which would have put the Bobcats down one player while trying to climb back from a deficit.

Loney has been a valuable bench asset for Quinnipiac this season, collecting a goal and an assist in 212 minutes. It’s important to have a strong presence come in for other players after they’ve been playing for 80 or more minutes, especially when you’re trying to get a goal back late in the game.

Fresh legs make all the difference, but the Bobcats had to be wary, which cost them.

This is now the second straight year the women’s soccer team is looking forward to the next season in the locker room after the semifinal game. But Clarke hopes that the team is rounding into form. Only one major piece from the current team, senior defender Hannah Reiter, is leaving the team.

“We have a couple of good centerbacks coming in that are hopefully gonna slot in at the back, but it’s still a relatively young team,” Clarke said.

Another struggle that Clarke hopes to correct for the upcoming season is the number of close games that the team played. Since the Bobcats had one of the toughest schedules in the MAAC this year, they played a lot of one-goal games.

“We never took a 2-0 lead in any of these games,” Clarke said after the semifinal loss. “Even when we beat Marist it was two late goals, so we’ve been tested and you start to see that there’s a mentality there, and today it’s just, can we take that next step.”

The men’s soccer team will take that next step without its female counterparts to move along with them, but both made it at least as far as the semifinals. Although the women’s second loss in the semifinals in two years will sting, the men will try to redeem them on Wednesday against Fairfield — the school that eliminated the women from the tournament last year, for those keeping track.