Menís Soccer 17th In Final Coaches Poll
ALBANY, N.Y. – Following the deepest postseason run in program history, the University at Albany men’s soccer team has been ranked a program-high 17th in the final Coaches Poll of the 2016 season, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America announced Tuesday. The mark improves upon their previous best of 21, set in the penultimate poll of the season, released on November 15.
Additionally, UAlbany’s final RPI ranking settled at 15, down slightly from the program high of 12 on November 21.
The Great Danes are the highest-ranked America East team in the top 25 of the Coaches Poll, supplanting UMass Lowell who had held that position throughout the season. The Riverhawks ranked as high as ninth in the poll, but were ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA reclassifying rules. No other America East teams were ranked in the final poll, though Vermont and New Hampshire had held rankings at various points during the season.
UAlbany’s 17th rank was earned with 215 points from the voters. 2016 College Cup champion Stanford ended the season atop the poll with 597 points, including 21 first place votes. Wake Forest, who lost to Stanford in the College Cup final in penalty kicks, was ranked second, earning 579 points and three first place votes. Clemson, who eliminated UAlbany from the tournament in the Sweet 16, ended the year ranked fifth, with 485 points. Syracuse, who UAlbany defeated at home in October when the Orange were ranked third, ended at 11th with 358 points.
The Great Danes won a Division I era program high 13 games in 2016, surpassing the previous high of 12 won by the teams from 2004 and 2008. The team won its first-ever America East championship, played in, hosted, and won its first-ever NCAA tournament game, and advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to then-#3 seed Clemson.
As a team, UAlbany ranked ninth nationally in total points, 10th in assists per game, 11th in points per game and total goals, and 16th in scoring offense. As individual players, junior Afonso Pinheiro ranked tied for 11th nationally in goals scored and total points, and sophomores Carlos Clark and Nico Solabarrieta ranked tied for 40th in assists.
Among America East opponents, UAlbany ranked first in assists and shutouts, and second in points and goals. Pinheiro ranked tied for second in points, third in goals, and tied for eighth in assists. Solabarrieta ranked tied for fourth in assists, and seventh in points and goals, and Clark ranked tied for fourth in assists, 10th in points, and tied for 11th in goals. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Danny Vitiello ranked first in the America East in shutouts, and second in goals against average.
The 2016 season also rewrote the program record book. This year’s squad tied the 2008 team for most goals in a single season with 39, and ranks second behind the 2008 team in points, points per game, goals per game, assists per game, and shots on goal. For individuals’ single-season statistics, Pinheiro’s 31 points in 2016 rank first, his 13 goals rank second, and his five assists rank in a tie for 10th. Solabarrieta’s 21 points rank fifth, his seven goals rank in a tie for seventh, and his seven assists rank in a tie for fifth. Clark’s 17 points rank in a tie for 10th, and his seven assists also rank in a tie for fifth. Finally, junior Moosah Khanat’s five assists rank in a tie for 10th as well.
Beyond individual seasons, a handful of career program records went down this year as well. Pinheiro became the all-time program leader in points, finishing with 73 through the end of his junior season. He also claimed the top spot in program history in career goals in the Division I era with 31. Senior Leo Melgar improved to fifth in career points with 35, and tied for fourth in career goals with 14.
Senior Luke Palmateer ended his career with 80 appearances for the Great Danes, which ranks as the most by a single player in program history. His 66 career starts rank fifth all-time. Joining Palmateer on these two lists are fellow senior defenders Bernardo Mattos and Keith Traut, who rank, respectively, tied for sixth and eighth in career games played, and tied for sixth and ninth in career starts.
Between the posts, Vitiello climbed to sixth in career saves, fourth in career save percentage, second in career goals against average, and fourth in career wins.
Coming off the 2015 season during which the Great Danes won their first-ever America East regular season title, the team was selected to finish first in the conference in the preseason Coaches Poll. Additionally, Pinheiro was named to the preseason MAC Hermann Award watch list, recognizing the top players in the country.
After exhibition games against Buffalo and Colgate, the Great Danes opened the season at home with a 2-2 double-overtime tie against Marist. Pinheiro scored the team’s first goal of the season, assisted by Solabarrieta, marking the second consecutive year the duo combined in this fashion to score the Great Danes’ first season goal. Next, the team defeated Lafayette at home 1-0.
Next, UAlbany embarked on a month-long, five-game road trip. It started with a two-game stint in Chicago, where the Danes suffered matching 3-0 losses to DePaul and Loyola-Chicago. Upon returning from the Midwest, UAlbany would spend its next three games trekking through New England, earning victories over Massachusetts and Rhode Island, before falling at Boston College 5-3.
The game against the Eagles marked a turning point for UAlbany on the season. Over their next 13 games, culminating in a rematch with Boston College in the NCAA Second Round, the Great Danes went 10-2-1, scoring 29 goals and letting up just seven, including seven shutouts.
The 13-game run started at home against LIU Brooklyn, whom the Danes defeated 4-1. Next, the team hit the road once more to open America East play at Hartford. The conference opener ended in a 0-0, double-overtime tie.
After the game against Hartford, the Great Danes returned home for a game against then-#3 Syracuse. After taking a 1-0 lead three minutes into the first half on a goal from Melgar, Syracuse scored to tie the game right before halftime. In the second half, senior Jonathan Interiano managed to slip the ball into the Syracuse net for what would prove to be the game-winner. It was Interiano’s first goal of the season. The victory over the Orange represented the highest seeded opponent any UAlbany team had defeated on campus.
Next, the team hosted conference rival Vermont, who arrived with one of the most potent offensive squad in the country. The Catamounts, however, were unable to break through the Danes’ defense, and UAlbany shut out Vermont 4-0.
After the Vermont game, Pinheiro was named America East Player of the Week, thanks in part to his 5 points on two goals and one assist against the Catamounts. It was the second time in his career that Pinheiro had scored five points in a game, and in both cases the opponent was Vermont. Additionally, Mattos was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week for the week ending October 9 due to his contributions to the two victories on the defensive line.
With two big wins in a week, the Great Danes visited New Hampshire, in what was perhaps the closest game of the season for UAlbany. After the Wildcats scored in the first minute, neither team was able to find the back of the net for the majority of the game. Facing the same 1-0 deficit as time wound down, the Great Danes scored twice in the final six minutes, including the game-winner from Solabarrieta with just six seconds remaining. For his heroics, Solabarrieta was named America East Player of the Week.
After defeating UMBC at home in the next game, the Great Danes hosted Stony Brook. The team was riding a six-game unbeaten streak, and was similarly unbeaten at home. When the teams met last year at Stony Brook, the Seawolves escaped with a 2-1 victory in double-overtime, with the game-winner coming with just 30 seconds remaining. This season’s game unfolded in a somewhat similar fashion. The teams found themselves tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, and Stony Brook escaped with a 2-1 victory after successfully converting on a penalty kick drawn against Vitiello on a breakaway chance less than two minutes into overtime.
The Great Danes were able to rebound following the loss in their final non-conference game of the season, a 3-1 victory at Hartwick, during which Solabarrieta scored at least one point in four of the previous five games. After the game, Traut was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 1 team, which recognizes the nation’s top student-athletes, and was placed in consideration for CoSIDA All-America honors.
The final road game of the regular season was against conference frontrunner UMass Lowell, who was ranked #19 at game time. The Great Danes lost 1-0 to the Riverhawks.
UAlbany ended the regular season at home against Binghamton on senior night. The Bearcats had upset UAlbany in the America East semifinals the season before. This time, the Great Danes exploded for a season-high five goals, which also tied a program high for goals in a single game. The victory, paired with a loss by New Hampshire, secured the second seed and a second-consecutive first round bye for the Danes entering the conference tournament.
UMass Lowell ended as regular season champions, but the NCAA reclassifying rules prevented them from continuing on. Stony Brook was awarded the top overall seed and would enjoy home field advantage throughout the tournament.
Traut led the Great Danes’ regular season awards, earning spots on the America East All-Conference First Team and the All-Academic team, the latter of which was his second consecutive. Pinheiro, Clark, and Mattos were named to the All-Conference Second Team, and freshman Brynjar Steinþórsson was named to the All-Rookie team.
After their first round bye, the Great Danes drew a rematch with Vermont in the America East semifinals. The Catamounts offense still ranked among the best in the country, despite the loss the UAlbany earlier in the season. Despite this, the Great Danes shut out the Catamounts once again, this time earning a 2-0 victory. Dating back to the 2015 season, UAlbany had now outscored Vermont 9-0 in three games.
The victory placed UAlbany in its first-ever America East title game. Their opponent would be Hartford, who had won two road games, upsetting New Hampshire and top-overall seed Stony Brook to reach the final. This meant that the Great Danes would now host the final, by virtue of holding the higher seed.
Like the first game against Hartford, scoring came at a premium. After combining for zero goals in 110 minutes the first time around, the Great Danes and the Hawks went through the first 88 minutes of the America East final without finding the net. The score was broken in the 89th minute when Pinheiro successfully converted a penalty kick, giving the Danes a 1-0 lead and their first-ever America East title.
The victory secured for the Great Danes the America East’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, where UAlbany would make its first-ever appearance. Mattos was named Most Outstanding Player for the tournament, and was joined on the All-Tournament team by Pinheiro, Clark, and Steinþórsson.
The aftermath of the conference title saw the Great Danes draw the #14 seed in the NCAA tournament, a first-round bye, and hosting privileges in the second round. Additionally, the Danes broke into the top-25 in the Coaches Poll for the first time, coming in at #21 in the penultimate poll of the 2016 season.
The Great Danes would find themselves in a rematch with Boston College for their first-ever tournament game, the same team that embarrassed them to the tune of five goals and sparking the run that UAlbany had been on. Despite the inexperience of playing this late into the season, the Danes put together a winning performance, avenging their regular season loss by defeating the Eagles 3-0. In three postseason games, the Great Danes had earned three shutouts.
Following this latest victory, Pinheiro was named to the College Soccer News Team of the Week. Additionally, the team attained its highest-ever RPI ranking of 12, and they had broken into the Top Drawer Soccer national poll at #10. The win also earned UAlbany a date with #3 seed Clemson in the Sweet 16.
Playing at Clemson’s Historic Riggs Field, UAlbany let up a goal late in the first half, entering halftime down 1-0. The Great Danes increased the pressure through the early part of the second half and quickly scored an equalizer. Minutes later, Solabarrieta nearly scored a second goal that would have given UAlbany the lead, but was denied by Clemson’s goalkeeper. Ultimately, Clemson proved to be just a little too much for UAlbany, scoring to more goals to win the game 3-1 and end the Great Danes’ season.
After the Clemson loss, Traut was named to the NSCAA All-East First Team, and Pinheiro and Mattos were named to the All-East Second Team. Afterwards, the final coaches poll ranked the Great Danes at a new program high 17th.
The historic season had come to an end, and attention would now turn to the offseason and preparations for 2017. UAlbany would have to replace the likes of Traut, Mattos, Palmateer, Melgar, Interiano, and a handful of others including Pedro Espindola and Ivan Martinez due to graduation, but would return solid scoring threats and experience at goalkeeper in the hopes of advancing even further next year.