The Niskayuna boys’ soccer team hasn’t allowed many goals this fall, but just about every time the Silver Warriors do concede one, coach Terrence Sloan has seen a switch flip for his team.
“Resiliency is our No. 1 thing,” Sloan said. “We’ve given up some goals this year — not a ton — but every time we’ve given a goal up, we’ve come right back.
“We actually play harder after we give up the goal.”
That’s exactly what happened in the driving rain Wednesday afternoon. Niskayuna absorbed wave after wave of pressure from undefeated Shenendehowa in the second half of a crucial Suburban Council showdown, finally cracking when Darien Espinal tapped home a Sahil Arora cross with 7:51 to play to put the Plainsmen in front.
That lead lasted all of two minutes, 26 seconds.
Desperate for the tying goal, Niskayuna ramped up the pressure and came right back as Zack Lind pounced on a Shenendehowa turnover and fired a shot that Plainsmen goalie Noah Flint stopped, only for the rebound to find the foot of Mike Puccioni who punched home the tying goal with 5:25 left.
The 1-1 draw in the penultimate regular-season game for both teams left Shenendehowa (9-0-2) atop the Suburban Council standings, two points clear of second-place Christian Brothers Academy, with third-place Niskayuna (7-1-3) sitting three points back of CBA.
“It’s a fantastic draw,” Sloan said. “We were coming into this game talking about how we had to leave here with at least a point. We did that. I was a little concerned when we gave up the goal with eight minutes left, but the kids battled back and got the goal we were looking for. We had a game plan ready to go today, and we executed that game plan really well.”
Shenendehowa controlled most of the second half, but was left to settle for the draw after Puccioni’s goal.
“We played well,” Plainsmen coach Jonathan Bain said, “but we turned the ball over in our defensive third a little bit when we were opening up into an offensive posture. It’s a mistake we don’t normally make. You can’t make mistakes like that, and [Niskayuna] capitalized on it.”
After a relatively uneventful first half that passed without a single shot on goal and just one corner kick — which went to Niskayuna — Shenendehowa began to establish its attacking threat in the second half.
Shenendehowa produced a few dangerous chances off set pieces early in the second half, with Niskayuna goalie Papa Ndiaye twice producing diving saves to deny shots from Brandon Barrett, while a scramble in front of the goal off a free kick resulted in a Niskayuna defender clearing the ball off the line.
Finally, Shenendehowa broke through with 7:51 to play when Arora beat his defender and sent in a cross that Espinal knocked home at the back post.
“[Arora’s] been great the entire season, and the last few games he’s been nicked up a little bit and hasn’t played as much,” Bain said. “We haven’t had that many minutes out of him. We rested him about the first 20 minutes today to make sure he could go, and he played a great game.”
With limited time left, Sloan was unsure if the Silver Warriors could rescue a result — but his faith in his team was quickly restored.
“The quality chances for both teams in this game were kind of limited, so I was second-guessing it,” he said. “But, I should never second-guess my team.”
Halftime score: Tied 0-0. Niskayuna scoring: Puccioni 1-0, Lind 0-1. Shenendehowa scoring: Espinal 1-0, Arora 0-1. Goalies: Niskayuna, Ndiaye, 2 saves. Shenendehowa, Flint, 3 saves.