Men’s Soccer Notches Pair of Top-10 Victories in the Face of Racial Abuse
Issue   |   Tue, 10/03/2017 - 21:40
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The Amherst defense has been excellent this season, conceding only three goals in six games, good for an average of 0.5 goals against per game.

The Amherst men’s soccer team put in a pair of impressive performance this weekend, as the Mammoths took on two of the top 10 programs in the nation. On Saturday, Amherst upset NESCAC rival Tufts 1-0. Gathering momentum from that victory, the Mammoths eked out another impressive win on Sunday against No. 9 Rutgers University-Newark. Amherst is now 2-1-1 in conference play and 4-1-1 overall.

Saturday’s game was one of the most anticipated NESCAC regular season matchups of the year, as the two programs have combined to win each of the past three national titles. The Jumbos first captured the Division III title in 2014 before the Mammoths won their first ever national title in 2015. Last season, however, Tufts wrested control of the trophy back last year, continuing the run of NESCAC dominance.

On Saturday, the first half was a defensive stalemate with both programs content to sit back and defend, leading to a 0-0 score at the half. The Jumbos nearly took the lead in the 58th minute when a Tufts forward got a corner kick from Gavin Tasker, but the shot rang off the crossbar, leaving the match deadlocked.

However, the Mammoths quickly responded to this scare, scoring the game’s only goal less than five minutes later. A throw-in from Bryce Johnson ’21 sailed over the Tufts back line and was deflected by the Jumbos’ keeper into the back of the net. A mere two minutes later, senior forward Weller Hlinomaz almost extended Amherst’s lead to two when he headed the ball past the keeper, but a Tufts defender was able to clear the ball off the line.

Desperate to tie the score, the Jumbos poured forward towards the end of the match, with several Jumbos’ attackers firing shots on the Mammoths’ goal, but first-year keeper Kofi Hope-Gund made the saves and preserved the shutout.

Sunday’s nonconference game proved to be much more emotionally charged than the previous day’s match. After being unsure of whether they would play out the entire game, the Mammoths prevailed 2-1 in overtime.

Amherst got on the board early, as sophomore Fikayo Ajayi scored in the seventh minute. Aziz Khan ’18 found Ajayi on the end line and, cutting back on his defender, Ajayi got off a close-range shot. Although the Rutgers-Newark keeper, Andres Medina, made the initial save, Ajayi got his own rebound and notched his second goal of the year, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Neither side was able to break through for the remainder of the first half and the team’s entered the locker room with the score still at 1-0. However, Rutgers-Newark came out firing to start the second half, and star sophomore Fabio De Sousa notched the equalizer for the visitors. Charging down the flank, De Sousa beat his defender and found himself in sight of the goal. He expertly chipped the ball past Amherst’s keeper, and the Scarlet Raiders found themselves back in the game.

At the end of the regulation, the score was still tied at 1-1, so the match went into overtime. However, seconds after the whistle blew to open the first overtime period, mayhem ensued.

Shocking all those within hearing range, a Rutgers-Newark player directed a racial slur at an Amherst forward standing in the center circle for the kickoff.

The Amherst player immediately called to the referee and tried to bring attention to the hateful act. However, the referee did not respond right away, and Coach Justin Serpone’s involvement was required to halt the game. Coach Serpone asserted that his team would not play another minute until the incident was addressed.

Ultimately, to the dismay of the team, the Rutgers-Newark player was merely awarded a yellow card. The referee said he could not eject the player because he himself did not hear the slur uttered. Despite this insufficient punishment, the game continued.

Once again, it did not take long for things to get ugly. The Amherst player who was the target of the racial slur retaliated against the offender in a physical manner. The referee proceeded to give the Amherst player a yellow card, which resulted in the player’s ejection, as it was his second yellow of the match. The call triggered a bench-clearing brawl as the Mammoths tried to defend their victimized teammate.

With the help of coaches and police officers, the officials finally managed to break up the fight so that the game could continue. Determined to get the win as a tribute to their wronged teammate, the Mammoths came out hard and put the Scarlet Raiders under intense pressure.

It only took seven minutes for Amherst’s offensive pressure to pay off thanks to the stellar play of a pair of underclassmen. Jimmy McMillian ’20 sent a well-placed ball into the box, and standout first-year Sebastian Derby calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net to win the game for the Mammoths.

“I’m proud of the way that our team, coaches, trainer and athletic department handled the situation,” senior captain Sam Malnik said. “We are a family. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Racism, in any form, is not tolerated by our team.”

Amherst returns to action on Wednesday, Oct. 4, when the Mammoths will host New England College for another nonconference matchup.