RINDGE — For the first time in three years, the No. 18 nationally-ranked Franklin Pierce University men’s soccer team will host a Northeast-10 Conference Championship Quarterfinal match Saturday at 5 p.m. against Bentley University at Sodexo Field.
The crimson and gray make their fourth straight appearance in the NE10 Tournament and their 19th trip since 2000. Last season, FPU was shutout 3-0 on the road by Southern New Hampshire University and they have not advanced past the quarterfinal round since a 2-1 double-overtime victory against defending conference champion SNHU on Nov. 1, 2016. Overall, the Ravens are 20-16 (.556) in the conference tournament with three league title victories (2006, 2010, 2011), with the last coming in 2011.
Bentley, like Franklin Pierce, is a three-time conference champion (1992, 1993, 1994) winning the crown last in 1994 to cap off a three-peat. The Falcons are 16-19 (.457) in the NE10 Tourney with their last appearance in the championship game coming in 2017, a 2-1 loss to Merrimack College, which was also the last time they made the conference tournament.
Since the two teams started meeting in 1990, the Ravens are 19-3-4 against the Falcons and they are 4-4-3 versus Bentley over the past 10 years in the regular season. The teams have met twice in the NE10 playoffs with the Ravens earning both victories, a 1-0 shutout of the Falcons en route to a conference championship title in 2010 and a 3-0 win in the quarterfinal round in 2012.
Scouting the Ravens
The Ravens earned the No. 2 seed in the tourney and finished head coach Ruben Resende’s first year at the helm with a 12-3-1, 10-2-0 NE10 record. FPU finished the month of September 4-1-1 before falling to Le Moyne College 2-0 on the road. They responded with their first four-game winning streak of the season, scoring 14 goals and allowing only one over that stretch. They then lost to Bentley 2-1, their first setback to the Falcons since 2013, but they responded, claiming the next four matches (10 goals for, one goal against) including a dominant upset against no. 2 nationally-ranked Adelphi University to head into the conference tourney with some momentum.
On offense, graduate student Stefan Lohberger (Schoellnach, Germany), who ranks third in the conference in shots (59), tied for third in goals (9), fourth in shots on goal (25) and tied for fifth in points (20), leads the Ravens. He also comes in at seventh in all of NCAA Division II in shots per game (4.21). As a team, Pierce ranks first in the conference in assists (33), second in shots (260), second in shots per game (16.3), fourth in goals (36), fourth in goals per game (2.25) and fourth in points (105).
Pierce has one of the most dominant defensive units in the conference. They have nine shutout victories on the season and have allowed only 10 goals all season, seven coming in conference play which all pace the NE10. They have allowed an average of 0.62 goals per game and the number dips to 0.58 in league play. Their goals-against average of 0.62 ranks them 10th in Division II out of 212 programs.
The goalkeeper tandem of senior Jadel Poon-Lewis (Diego Martin, Trinidad and Tobago) and graduate student Clay Thomas (Franklin, Tenn.) coupled with their suffocating backline has been key to their success defensively. Poon-Lewis easily set a new career-low in goals allowed (2) and goals-against average (0.35) as he is atop the conference leaderboard. He also is tied for first in shutouts (4) with Thomas for the conference lead. Thomas, a transfer from the University of Vermont (3rd all-time in GAA. 0.77), picked up right where he left off with the Catamounts, ranking second behind his teammate in goals-against average (0.77) and third in goals allowed (8) in the NE10.
Scouting the Falcons
The Falcons enter the tournament as the No. 7 seed after going 8-8-0, 6-6-0 over the course of the season. Bentley heads into the conference playoffs with no momentum, as they are losers in their last five matches. They have scored only three goals in those five games, while allowing 11. Bentley is led in net by one-time NE10 Goalkeeper of the Week, senior Nick Maldarella, who’s gone 8-8-0 on the year in the cage with 80 saves, the third-best mark in the league. On offense, senior forward Julian Stewart carries his team with a team-leading eight goals and 18 points, which puts him tied for sixth and deadlocked for eighth in the conference respectively.
Bentley has a stagnant offense coming in, at the bottom third of the league in goals (21), goals per game (1.31), assists (15) and points (57), while on the defensive end they are middle-of-the-pack, ranking seventh in goals allowed (25) and seventh in goals-against average (1.53).
Both squads met earlier this year on Oct. 19 as the Ravens traveled to Waltham, Mass., and were upended 2-1 by the host Falcons. Matthew Tidona scored in the 13th minute before Stewart cashed in an insurance marker. Senior Niklas Laudahn (Olfen, Germany) put in a tally in the 90th minute for the Ravens lone goal. Franklin Pierce outshot their counterparts 18-8 in the contest and had more corner kick opportunities (5-to-2).
The winner of this contest will square off against the victor of the No. 6 College of Saint Rose/No. 3 Southern New Hampshire University match Wednesday for the semifinals game at the higher-seeded team’s home field.