Rams Fall to UNC in First Elite 8 in Program History

Jannick Loebe tied the game at one with his third tournament goal in the 63rd minute. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Jannick Loebe tied the game at one with his third tournament goal in the 63rd minute. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Jannick Loebe tied the game at one with his third tournament goal in the 63rd minute. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

By Alvin Halimwidjaya

After three thrilling rounds of NCAA tournament play, the Rams’ carriage turned back into a pumpkin, and Fordham Men’s Soccer’s Cinderella run ended at the feet of third-seeded North Carolina in a 2-1 loss on Dec. 2, at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Though a difficult end to the season, the Rams made history with the first Elite 8 appearance for any Fordham men’s sport, and they were the only unseeded team to make it to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.

“For me personally, the entire experience was surreal,” senior defender Matthew Lewis said. “For the senior class, I can’t speak for everyone, but I do know that this was a culmination of everything we’ve worked for. The past four years have been full of hard work and tireless effort to continue to change the soccer culture here at Fordham, and we finally got the chance and capitalized on gaining the national respect we thought we deserved. The most surreal moment for me was definitely the home game against St. Francis and having that big crowd there pushing us to that win, [that] was something else.”

Coming into the game, Fordham’s goal was to have its defense take the lead and bottle up UNC. Though the Tar Heels were a powerhouse soccer school, the Rams felt they could hang with the best schools as long as they kept opposing offenses in check.

“We knew going into each game that if we defended well we could win some games and make a run,” Lewis said. “We are a team that is dangerous on set pieces and that makes other teams uncomfortable. If as a team, we can keep the game tight, the pressure would just mount on the other team giving us more opportunities to take the lead and put the other team in panic mode. That’s exactly what we did against Virginia and Duke.”

The game started out as the previous games had, with Fordham settling on defense and not taking any risks; however, UNC also hung back throughout the first half, and both teams ended up going into halftime with a combined seven shots. The Rams came close to a goal in the 34th minute, but a cross by junior forward Janos Loebe into the box was punched away by UNC goalkeeper James Pyle, and sophomore midfielder Bart Dziedzic’s rebound shot was deflected to safety. The Tar Heels also came close to breaking the scoreless tie, but junior goalkeeper Rashid Nuhu saved Mauricio Pineda’s shot in the final minutes of the first half.

In the second half, UNC managed to punch through Fordham’s defense in the 61st minute. After Jack Skahan sent a ball into the box over a cluster of players, Zach Wright took the ball and volleyed it in to take the 1-0 lead. However, Fordham had, at that point, equalized a one-goal deficit four times in their NCAA Tournament, and refused to let UNC’s lead faze them.

In the 63rd minute, after a foul on Janos Loebe, the aforementioned Jannik Loebe equalized on a free kick that bounced off a UNC player for his ninth goal of the season and third of the tournament, bringing the game to a 1-1 deadlock.

However, the Tar Heels got the last word in, as a header from Alan Winn in the 80th minute gave UNC a 2-1 lead. Fordham pushed for the tie, but Jannik Loebe’s last-ditch effort was saved by the UNC goalkeeper to bring the Rams’ tournament run to a grinding halt.

Despite coming to the end of their 2017 campaign, Fordham Men’s Soccer had their best season to date with a 14-6-3 record and their very first Elite 8 appearance. A program-record 14 wins sets the team up for successful runs in the future; however, despite maintaining a core of Janos Loebe, Dziedzic and Nuhu, this year’s senior class will be dearly missed, as they were the frontrunners of the Fordham men’s soccer team’s newfound status as an A-10 powerhouse.

“I just really enjoyed playing with [the team] and had an incredible time here,” Jannik Loebe said. “I’m happy that I made that experience with all the guys and glad that we had such a successful run at the end together.”

“Firstly, I just want to thank the senior class,” Lewis added. “These guys have become my brothers and teammates that helped create this unbelievable atmosphere. Obviously the coaches Jim and Gav contributed to a fantastic experience that I will never regret. For the team, I just hope this past season has given them the utmost confidence to take on any opposition in the country. This team has characteristics very few have and the future is very bright for this group. Finally, don’t be content with the Elite 8. Enjoy it. Be proud. But always strive for more. This program is capable of accomplishing more.”