By Canio Marasco
After hitting a slump in the middle of conference play where the Griffs fell to a 1-3-1 record, they have rebounded by avoiding defeat in their past three games.
Following a 3-0 lose to the Iona Gaels, a game in which Coach Dermot McGrane said the team played awful overall and deserved to lose, the Griffs came out energized against the St. Peter’s Peacocks. They scored two goals early in the first half and were able to preserve their lead to a victory.
Since their debacle against the Gaels, the Griffs have looked like a new and rejuvenated team. After defeating the Peacocks, the Griffs traveled to New Jersey to play the Monmouth Hawks, a team ahead of them in the conference standings. Much like against the Peacocks, the Griffs started quickly against the Hawks. Junior Mo Kretschmer scored two minutes into the game. The Griffs preserved this 1-0 lead heading into the second half. In the second half, the Hawks found an equalizer after just five minutes of play. However, sophomore Melvin Blair was able to respond for the Griffs, finding the eventual game-winner only two minutes after the Hawks had equalized the game.
After the game, Coach McGrane told gogriffs.com, “This was a huge road win for us against a good team. I am really proud of how the boys played tonight and thought they deserved to get the result. This was a great week for us where we were able to pick up six very important points.”
In their game against the Hawks, the Griffs used a lineup that was similar to the one they used in their win against the Peacocks. In this line-up, Coach McGrane completely overhauled the midfield. Using a 4-5-1 formation, Coach McGrane changed the job of several midfielders: He moved Lucian Preis into a more advanced attacking position, placed Will Pauls into a holding midfield position, pushed Mo Kretschmer into a more attacking role, and placed Eric Strauchen in the forward position after a return from an injury.
The 4-5-1 formation is built for a team that has a strong backline that doesn’t need aid from the wide midfielders. It is also conducive to a team that lacks a truly creative striker like the Griffs. Instead, the striker is generally a tall player, like Eric Strauchen or Hakeem Milson, who can hold up the play and win 50-50 balls in the air. This allows the attacking midfielders to deliver more balls into the box and have more freedom and space on the field. The formation and role changes have seemingly paid large dividends for the Griffs. Since these changes, the Griffs have scored seven goals and have gone 2-0-1 over that period.
The Griffs continued their conference campaign against the Siena Saints, who entered the game third in the MAAC standings. The Saints opened the scoring in the twentieth minute, however Hakeem Milson was able to find an equalizer for the Griffs before the half. In the second half, the Saints scored two goals in the opening ten minutes to take a 3-1 lead against a floundering Griffs team. In an unfavorable position, especially for a team that has struggled to score, the Griffs mounted a comeback. In the seventeenth minute, Mathew Santos converted a penalty, drawing the Griffs within one goal. In the eighty-second minute, Alex Grattarola was able to finish off the comeback as he headed in the equalizer. The game would ultimately be forced to overtime, where neither team would score, ending the game in a 3-3 tie.
Coach McGrane, after the game, told gogriffs.com, “I thought it was a pretty even game today with both teams having good stretches where they controlled the game. I was pleased to see the fight in our players today, especially coming from two goals down to tie it.”
After their game with the Peacocks, Coach McGrane and Thomas Tuepen both stated that the most pressing issue the Griffs needed to fix was their mental toughness. Teupen stated that in their game against the Gaels, they could have been scored on within seconds of the start because they weren’t mentally prepared to play. Coach McGrane added that they needed to be mentally tough in respect to goal scoring; they couldn’t let their struggles affect them and they needed to be more prepared mentally for games.
The last four games have proven that the Griffs have successfully fixed their most pressing weakness. In their matches against the Peacocks and the Hawks, they scored early in the game and were able to preserve their lead. However, the greatest testament to this change can be seen in their game against the Saints. Despite being down 3-1 midway through the second half, in a position where they needed to find goals, they stayed mentally tough and were able to force the contest to overtime.
With only two games remaining in the season, the Griffs currently sit seventh in the MAAC standings. This average record is largely due to their three-game slump in the middle of conference play. In the MAAC playoffs, only the top six teams make it, meaning these two final games are critical for the Griffs.
The Griffs’ next opponent is the Fairfield Stags, who are currently eighth in the MAAC, one spot below the Griffs. This means the loser of the game could see their playoff hopes end depending upon the play of the Hawks and Gaels, who are currently fifth and sixth respectively. The Griffs and the Stags are rather evenly matched, as one could surmise from their similar conference records. This is also evident in the fact that the Stags have only scored two more goals this season. However, the Griffs have conceded three less tallies.