Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sacred Heart Pioneers 2 at Iona Gaels 1 (NCAA Soccer) - August 30, 2016

I'm off to Canada today, and next week I'm back to work, so Tuesday was my last free weekday of the summer. I wanted to find an afternoon game to commemorate the occasion, but none of the local teams were obliging. Fortunately, the college soccer season started last week, which opened up a few more possibilities, with the Iona Gaels the most intriguing due to a start time of 3 p.m. Why does that matter? Because just a few blocks away from Iona's campus is the Smokehouse Tailgate Grill, whose happy hour runs from 4-7 and comes with $3 pints of good craft beer. As I knew the soccer game would end around 5, that would give me enough time to grab a couple before heading back to NYC.

Iona College is located in New Rochelle, just 40 minutes from Grand Central Terminal on the Metro North Line, with return off-peak fare of $15.50. The campus is just over a mile from the station, along a busy thoroughfare known as North Avenue. There are occasional buses, but the walk is not too taxing. You can find several fast food restaurants as you make your way to campus, and I'd suggest buying something to bring in as there is no food provided at soccer games.

The Gaels play at Mazzella Field, located in front of the Hynes Athletic Center, where the basketball teams do battle. The field is named for the parents of an alumnus, though there is another Mazzella who is in the Gaels Hall of Fame, which is inside the Athletic Center and worth a quick look. The stadium, if it can even be called that, is surrounded by attractive buildings on three sides and is quite a relaxing setting.

There is seating only on the west side, in the form of five rows of concrete blocks that can apparently hold 2,400 fans. No shade is available, so wear sunscreen if attending a day game. Note that the field is also used for lacrosse, so there are markings for both games on the field, with soccer's in more obvious yellow.

There is a single scoreboard in the northeast corner that includes stats such as saves and corner kicks, making it the fanciest feature here.

It costs nothing to see a soccer game here, which is to be expected as only Iona students and morons like myself would bother. I guess classes had started because there was quite a good turnout, as students came and went throughout the game, with the final attendance a robust 189. It was a beautiful day so why not spend an hour or two supporting your fellow students, especially in a sport that is usually ignored? I couldn't argue with that logic, and it was really worth the time to come up here and see a game that will likely only be remembered in this post.

The Game

The Sacred Heart Pioneers were the visitors, and they were completely outplayed in the first 20 minutes. But they managed to score a goal at the midway point of the half, when an Iona defensive miscue gave the ball to Shaquille Saunchez, who tallied from 15 yards out.

Early in the second half, Saunchez was fouled in the box, leading to a penalty, which was converted by Oscar Curras (below). The Gaels continued to press and were finally rewarded in the 70th minute when Daniel Huertas tapped home an easy cross from Marcos Nunez, who was the 2015 MAAC Offensive Player of the Year. But I'm sure you knew that.

Iona had a couple more opportunities to tie, but Pioneer freshman keeper Robert Strain was equal to the task as the visitors escaped with a road win despite being dominated. The stats below show that Iona had 26 attempts, with 9 of those being saved by Strain, including a couple of the spectacular variety. No matter the level, soccer is a game where you need to finish and Iona learned that lesson the hard way today.

Next Up

I'm off to Toronto and Montreal to see a couple of CFL games to celebrate the unofficial end of summer. Check back for recaps on the weekend.



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