Springfield men’s soccer was dead. The team dropped the NEWMAC championship game to WPI, which cost them their undefeated season and and an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
But then they were given a second chance, and new life. The Pride received an at large bid to the tournament where they were matched up with Endicott.
This time, the Pride took nothing for granted and walked away with a 1-0 victory. This was the first ever win in NCAA Tournament play for the team in the history of the soccer program, a historic feat for Coach Steffen Siebert and his players.
The Gulls were not an easy matchup in the first round. The team came in at 13-4-3 and had won six of its previous seven matchups heading into tournament play. The Pride came in sliding, suffering losses to Wheaton and WPI late in the year.
The first half of the game was a return to what led Springfield to an undefeated record through 13 games of its season. The Pride controlled the ball and dictated the pace of play. Both key factors in what had made its defense so elite.
Endicott did force some good looks in the half. The Gulls got out on the counter attack and got behind the Pride’s defense on a few occasions. Still, no scores from the opportunities.
Springfield created its own offense too. It felt like Springfield was on the attack and getting higher quality chances than Endicott; the numbers backed this. Both sides generated six shots, but three of them were on goal for Springfield and only one for Endicott.
In a playoff game such as this one it can be easy to press and get out of character. Springfield was careful to trust themselves, remain calm, and not press.
Danny Murphy felt the Pride did well in keeping its composure:
“The tension was definitely high but we always focus on doing us. We’re able to go hard and know that we’re just gonna do us. The big thing is remembering how we got here and trusting each other.”
The second half was a show of defense turning to offense. It only took six minutes, and then Springfield found the back of the net.
Murphy curled in a beautiful goal for the Pride. Endicott’s Camden Stockdale could do nothing but watch as the ball sail over his head and into the top right of the net. Despite the cold, Murphy ran to his team on the sidelines for an embrace.
From there the momentum was seized and Springfield never looked back. A first goal does a lot for the psyche of a team and Springfield knew they had an advantage.
“The whole game we had great energy. We were fired up because we’ve never won an NCAA game, and we know what we’re capable of,” Murphy said. “That goal brought a little more hope and helped bring us up.”
From there the Pride did everything that they had to for a win. The defense remained steady, they continued to attack rather than sit on the lead, and Frankie Stewart made some clutch saves. Finally, the clock hit triple zeroes and they had survived round one.
Siebert knows this was one step towards a larger goal, but he also recognized the history of a first win in NCAA Tournament play.
“It was phenomenal. Endicott came here to play and they played phenomenal, we really needed to show what we were made of and we did. It means a lot to the program, to the school, to the boys, and again it’s the first time we ever won at the national stage for men’s soccer and it’s something I am incredibly proud to be a part of.”
The win is a tremendous accomplishment and deserves recognition. Siebert and his players will hope to add many more to the list. Including more this year.
Springfield returns to action Sunday at 1 p.m. to face Amherst College. Amherst is the host and they will have the crowd on its side, but the Pride will look to keep fighting like they have done all season long.
Survive and advance. That is the goal for Springfield moving forward.