NISKAYUNA — Having given his team a lead 70 minutes earlier, Niskayuna boys’ soccer forward Mike Puccioni ended up with the ball at his feet in the closing minutes and one of the most beautiful sights in all of soccer in front of him.
Absolutely nothing — including the opposing goalie — to stop him from scoring.
“It is nerve-wracking,” Puccioni said, “because you feel like something’s not right. In the end, yeah, it is the best sight, to have an open goal.”
Shaker had sent goalie Malcolm Robinson into the offensive end to give the Blue Bison an extra attacking option on a last-minute corner kick, but when the Niskayuna defense cleared the ball from danger, a pass from Tim McCory left Puccioni all alone with nothing but clear grass ahead of him.
The junior striker’s easy touch into the empty net was Puccioni’s second goal of the game, and Niskayuna’s dominant defense did the rest by recording a fourth consecutive shutout to start the season — even with star defender Toby Goldner out while nursing a quad injury — as the Silver Warriors notched a 2-0 Suburban Council win Saturday afternoon.
“It’s always a team effort,” Puccioni said. “Sometimes it is just me who scores, but everyone contributes in their own way and it’s great when it all comes together.”
Deployed as the central striker in the Niskayuna (4-0) attack, Puccioni’s tall, sturdy frame makes him an ideal target man in coach Terrence Sloan’s system.
That showed in Puccioni’s first goal of the game, where the junior forward posted up in the middle of the box, received a cross from Andrew Stiles with his back to the goal and shielded off his defender before turning to fire a strike past Robinson in the sixth minute.
“Michael is a beast,” Sloan said. “He’s got a solid frame for a junior, and he commands a lot of attention because he’s able to hold the ball up and let runners get through. It creates a lot of problems for teams.”
That early goal represented the entirety of the offensive fireworks in the first half, which featured just one other shot on goal — a long-range effort that Niskayuna goalie Papa Ndiaye easily collected.
The physicality was turned up a notch in the second half, with a handful of yellow cards doled out. Just before the second-half mask and water break, a foul gave Shaker (3-2) its best opportunity of the match.
The Blue Bison won a free kick from about 25 yards out on the left wing, and Daniel Mattox unleashed a swerving line drive that required a diving two-handed stop from Ndiaye to keep Shaker from equalizing.
“We knew this was going to be a real test today,” Sloan said, “and the guys rose to the occasion.”
Eventually, Shaker’s desperation for the tying goal led to sending Robinson forward to help attack a corner kick, which led to Puccioni’s solo breakaway to seal the result.
“We had the kitchen sink thrown forward,” Shaker coach Andrew Fountain said. “Nisky cleared it, they did a nice job on it, and they took advantage and got that second goal. If we’re down by a goal with a couple minutes left, we’re going for it.”
Halftime score: Niskayuna led 1-0. Shaker scoring: None. Niskayuna scoring: Puccioni 2-0, A. Stiles 0-1, McCory 0-1. Goalies: Shaker, Robinson 3 saves. Niskayuna, Ndiaye 3 saves.