With the return of seven starters, including the top three scorers and the top two goalkeepers, the Rider University men’s soccer team looks to be in good position to defend its 2015 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship Title.
“I’m not sure if we are going to be as powerful offensively as we’ve been,” said sixth-year head coach Charlie Inverso, the 2015 Northeast Region Coach of the Year. The Broncs scored 42 goals last season and 40 the year before. “We may have to give up fewer goals this year to be successful. If we stay healthy we have a shot at having a pretty good year.”
The Rider offense will be led by an All-Region forward, junior Jose Aguinaga, a three-time All-MAAC midfielder, senior Christian Flath, and the 2015 MAAC Championship Tournament MVP, junior forward Elliott Otmani.
Aguinaga was a First Team ECAC All-Star, a Second Team All-Region and a First Team All-MAAC selection last year, as well as a member of the MAAC Championship All-Tournament team. Aguinaga led the MAAC in points (23) and assists (9) last year. “He had a good summer playing for the Seattle Sounders (of the PDL),” Inverso said. “He’s a talented player who works hard and will be in a leadership role this year. His skill set is pretty wide; he can do a lot of things. Three of his goals were headers last year. He wants to get better. He’s looking to play after Rider.”
Flath was named Third Team All-Region and First Team All-MAAC last year when he ranked second in the MAAC in goals (eight) and third in points (20). “Christian is so much more than just someone who hits a great corner kick or free kick,” Inverso said. “He’s a complete player who can score.” Flath enters his senior year with 23 goals and 62 points in 51 career games.
Otmani scored three goals in the MAAC Championship Tournament last year, including a goal to give Rider a 2-0 lead in the Title Game and finished the season with 18 points in 18 games. “He certainly came on strong at the right time last year after a slow start,” Inverso said. “He’s a good player to have when the chips are down. He’s skillful and deceptive. There are a lot of things he can do that make him dangerous.”
Baird started 14 games in the Rider goal last season and led the MAAC in saves per game (4.47) and was third in the MAAC in shutouts per game (five in 15 games) and fifth in the MAAC in save percentage. “We recruited him out of high school, he went to Rutgers, and it is great that he found his way back here,” Inverso said. “He stepped up last year and played up to his potential. He had a great October and November.”
Nardielo was third on the 2015 team in minutes played, starting 19 games as a junior after starting all 18 games as a sophomore and all 18 games as a rookie. “He’s been a three-year starter and he’ll be counted on heavily,” Inverso said. “He has the ability to go forward. He’s a really good offensive-minded back.”
Bond is a veteran of 57 games, including 12 starts last year when he was third on the team in assists and sixth in points. “A passionate, emotional guy who has matured,” Inverso said. “He is a big part of what we do on the offensive end.”
Huss was named to the 2015 MAAC Championship All-Tournament team and was second on the team and fifth in the MAAC in assists last year. Huss has started 45 games at Rider. “He’s a feisty, competitive guy who is very passionate,” Inverso said. “He’s our emotional leader who has a lot of skill.”
Freeman is a veteran of 57 games, starting 18, including 10 last year, and scored the game-winning goal in the MAAC Title Game last year. “He got that huge goal for us in the finals,” Inverso said. “I think he is going to have a good senior year.”
Pastuna started seven games in the Rider nets last year and was a MAAC Player of the Week. “He didn’t do anything to lose his spot in goal,” Inverso said, “Baird just played so great we had to go with the hot hand. I have faith in all of our keepers.”
Fryc is a veteran of 47 Rider games, making 15 starts last year. “He has been a spot starter off and on but he comes to play every day,” Inverso said. “He scored one of the biggest goals of the season last year.” Fryc’s first collegiate goal gave Rider a 1-0 lead in the MAAC Championship Game, a 3-2 win over nationally ranked Monmouth. “He is steady and remains focused, which is what you want from the guys in the back.”
Crawford played in the first two games of the 2015 season before a foot injury caused him to red-shirt. “He’s going to push for a starting role in the back,” Inverso said.
Nitti has played in 42 Rider games, including 13 last year and 14 in 2014. “Nitti is starting to come around,” Inverso said.
Stephan, a member of the MAAC All-Academic team the last two years, played in 13 games last year, starting one, and assisted on the goal that gave Rider a 2-0 lead in 3-2 win at Bryant. Stephan played 90 minutes in 2-1 MAAC win at Iona “One of the hardest workers on the team,” Inverso said of Stephan. “I honestly can’t remember ever having a player who improved over a four year stretch as much as Dean has.”
“Herpreck, Clement and Kouma are going to be solid,” Inverso said. “I thing Robinson and Castro are going to give us some time as well. If you were an outsider watching us practice you couldn’t pick out the newcomers.”
Last season we didn’t play too many conference games at full strength due to injuries,’ Inverso said. ‘Everybody needed to step up and they did. So the newcomers and the non-starters have to be ready when they are called upon, like everyone did last year.”
After winning just three games in 2012, the Broncs won eight games in 2013, nine in 2014 and 14 last year on the way to the NCAA tournament.
“Everybody in the locker room feels good about what we’ve done over the last three years,” Inverso said. “We get respect from our opponents now and I think that’s the best part.”
The Broncs were picked to finish third in the MAAC last season and finished second during the regular season. This year Rider is picked to finish second.
“Monmouth, Iona, Siena and Fairfield are always going to be tough in the MAAC,” Inverso said. “This is a very balanced league where there is no place you can go that is not a hard place to play. Hopefully we will make Rider a tough place to play. We try to play the game the right way, an attacking style, and hopefully fans enjoy seeing that and will enjoy watching us play.”