By Canio Marasco, III
After an average 4-4-0 start in non-league play, the Griffs have started conference play with two positive results against the Rider Broncs and the Manhattan Jaspers.
The Griffs first conference game of the year was against the Broncs, a team ranked 20 in the country heading into the match. The Griffs were able to outplay the Broncs for a large portion of the game, but ultimately tied with the conference powerhouse.
The first half of the game was rather monotonous. Both teams were unable to maintain much possession and didn’t create many scoring chances. However, in the second half, the Griffs started quickly and poured on the offense. In the 61 minute, sophomore center back Alex Grattarola was able to rise above everyone on a corner to nod in a header across the goal. However, just six minutes later Rider was able to equalize, as senior Rob Nardiello was able to collect the rebound off his header and tap it into the back of the net. The Griffs and the Broncs played two unremarkable overtime periods on their way to a draw.
Coach McGrane, on the result, said, “Rider is very good, they’re ranked even, so that could be a very important result coming towards the end of the year.”
The loss pushed the Broncs down to 22 in the national rankings, but bolstered the Griffs confidence heading into their game with the Jaspers. Going into their matchup with the Griffs, the Jaspers were 0-7-1 and had lost their first conference game 2-1 to the Monmouth Hawks.
The Griffs jumped all over the floundering Jaspers and earned a nervy 1-0 win. As is the case in most games this season, the Griffs applied the majority of the offense in the game. They outshot the Jaspers 9-3 in the first half, but missed several quality opportunities. The trend held true in the second half as well – the Griffs dominated offensive play. However, it wasn’t until the eightieth minute that the Griffs broke through. Junior forward Hakeem Milson was able to score, burying the rebound from his blocked shot from outside of the box, and secured the win for his team.
“We’re playing well right now, we’re a tough team to score on and Manhattan has been struggling. They’re certainly having a tough year.” Coach McGrane continued, “So, we were just the better team. We scored one, should have scored more – as is always the case – but, one’s all you need in the end.”
The most encouraging aspect of the Griffs win against the Jaspers was the fact that junior forward Hakeem Milson scored.
Coming into the season, Coach McGrane faced the task of finding a true striker. The player that seemed most likely to fill the role of the “number nine” was Milson. Standing 6-foot-1, Milson has the size and strength to hold-up play, while also possessing the athleticism to play quickly on the break. Despite all the intangibles, Milson simply hasn’t produce as the team has hoped. In 10 games this season, he has only scored twice, not the growth they were expecting from his one goal in seventeen games last season.
Milson, on his production, stated, “I’m not happy with my goal output so far. I’ve play, like, ten games so far and I only have two goals. I’m not happy with that. I think my movement could be better. I also think my desire to score goals could be better. I think I can put out a little more effort, you know, like get to the ball first and always beat my opponent in challenges.”
Coach McGrane wasn’t as quick to place blame on Milson, instead looking at the Griffs goal production from a team perspective. He stated, “As a forward, on any team, one could talk about positional stuff, runs off the ball, holding the ball up, but in the end, the forwards job is to score goals. That goes for all our forwards and all our midfielders even. Finding goals is the task at hand.”
Due largely to a Milson goal, the Griffs have started conference play 1-0-1, tying a national ranked team and beating an opponent they were certainly favored over. Strong play in the conference has been something that has alluded the Griffs in the past couple of seasons. Last year the Griffs finished conference play with a 5-5-0 record; in 2014 their record was 4-4-2.
“So far we’ve been doing better [in conference play] than we’ve really done over the past couple years.” Milson continued, “I think that it’s really important that we’ve had positive results in both of our conference games so far.”
Conference play has been an issue for the Griffs the past couple seasons. This year, the Griffs have shown that they could buck the trend. However, their next game is against the Quinnipiac Bobcats, who are 6-5-0 overall, but have started conference play with a 2-1-0 record. The Bobcats, in route to their 2-1-0 conference record, have defeated the Marist Red Foxes and the Jaspers. The Griffs beat the Jaspers 1-0, however the Bobcats were able to win 4-0. While allowing a large amount of shots this season, the Bobcats have only conceded eleven goals. They have coupled this tough defensive play with sixteen goals on the season. In comparison, the Griffs have scored just nine goals, but have only conceded eight.
Coach McGrane, on the keys to defeating the Bobcats, jokingly stated, “Play better than they do.” He continued more seriously, “I think, above all, we have to impose our style of play on the game. If we come out and play like we’re capable of, we can beat anyone in this conference. So, it’s not really about them [Quinnipiac], it’s about us. I think we’ve been showing a lot more consistency in our game and the team has been mentally tough, so that’s what we’re looking to continue.”