The #2 Central Connecticut men's soccer team (7-3 NEC) fell to #3 Monmouth (7-3 NEC) on penalty kicks on Friday afternoon in a Northeast Conference Tournament Semifinal match. The Hawks converted on four-of-five penalty kicks to clinch the victory in a match that was tied 1-1 after 110 minutes of play. Monmouth's Anthony Vasquez stepped to the penalty spot with his team ahead 3-2 and delivered the winning goal that sent the Hawks to the Northeast Conference Championship Game.
Monmouth scored early in the match when Joe Schmid passed to Derek Luke. Luke dribbled toward midfield before stopping and launching a shot over his defender that dropped into the net behind junior Anthony Occhialini. The Hawks goal came in only the fifth minute of play.
Monmouth controlled much of the action during the first half, but after the score Occhialini an the Blue Devil defense kept the Hawks tied down.
After the break the Blue Devils dominated play, out shooting the Hawks 9-2 in the second half.
In all, the Blue Devils trailed for 65 minutes before senior Ognen Stamenkovik scored his first goal of the season to tie the game in the 70th minute of play. Stamenkovik came down the middle on a corner kick and chipped in the pass from junior Jesse Menzies. For Menzies it was his team-high eighth assist of the season.
The Blue Devils best chance to take the lead in regulation came with three minutes left in play. Sophomore Manny Nobre intercepted a clearing pass from a Monmouth defender just inside of the Hawks half of the field. He stopped the ball and quickly launched a 35-yard strike that beat the keeper, but curved just outside of the right post.
It was the final serious threat for either team in the match.
In overtime, neither team mounted a serious offensive threat, despite several chances for each side off free kicks. After 110 minutes and a 1-1 score the game would be decided by penalty kicks.
Both teams scored on their first attempt. On the second time through Occhialini guessed right and came through with a huge save, but Monmouth's keeper Alex Blackburn matched the save on Central's second attempt. Both teams followed with scores in their third attempt.
After Monmouth scored on their fourth attempt, Central junior Ben Walsh stepped up looking to keep his team in the match. Walsh's kick got past the keeper, but sailed just high over the cross bar, giving the Hawks the 3-2 advantage with one attempt left. Vasquez delivered with his shot, clinching the 4-2 penalty kick victory.
Occhialini played well in the net throughout the match. He made three saves and allowed one goal. In addition to his saves, he stopped several Monmouth attacks by corralling loose balls and punching out crossing passes.
With the loss the Blue Devils finish the season with a overall record of 10-9. The season was highlighted by the Blue Devils first share of the regular season title since the 1998 season.