Rams Draw Marshall in NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship

The 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship Bracket has been announced, leaving Fordham’s quest for another deep tournament run to begin on May 2 against Marshall University in North Carolina.

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After winning its fourth Atlantic 10 Championship, Men’s Soccer now focuses its attention on the NCAA Championship. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Andrew Posadas, Managing Editor Emeritus

Fordham Men’s Soccer didn’t have the reaction one might expect upon hearing host Will Haskett reveal their place in the Division I Men’s Soccer Championship Selection Show on Monday afternoon. The Rams were not caught up in adulation and exuding “We’re just happy to be here!” energy throughout Bepler Commons. Head coach Carlo Acquista and his players celebrated quite calmly instead, carrying themselves like it was business as usual after capturing the program’s fourth Atlantic 10 Championship over the weekend against George Washington University.

“It has to be all business,” Acquista said in an interview. “I give a lot of credit to our leaders who have been on board from day one and are an extension of the coaching staff. They’ve bought in, and this team culture keeps growing our way.”

Acquista has helped guide the Rams to their fifth NCAA Championship appearance in only his second season at Rose Hill. It’s Fordham’s first trip back since 2017 when former head coach Jim McElderry and the Rams went on an improbable NCAA quarterfinals run featuring signature wins over the University of Virginia and Duke University.

McElderry’s accomplishments over 16 years with Fordham — which included a pair of A-10 titles and three NCAA Championship appearances — left massive pressure on Acquista as his successor when McElderry departed for Rutgers University. Luckily, Acquista’s close friendship with McElderry and his previous knowledge of Fordham made it easier when he accepted the job back in 2019. Acquista went on to say, “I’m very fortunate in that Jim and I are pretty close friends, so I’ve watched his coaching journey, and he’s watched mine. He carved and paved the way for where Fordham [Men’s Soccer] is today.”

Fordham looks poised to replicate success similar to McElderry’s 2017 squad in this season’s championship, but Marshall University will be standing in the way of that. Just like Fordham, the Thundering Herd have clinched an automatic bid for the second consecutive year following their win over the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Marshall is currently ranked 10th in the United Soccer Coaches’ most recent poll and finished the regular season at 9-2-2.

Even more interesting is the previous history between Acquista and Marshall head coach Chris Grassie. Both coaches met once before in the 2016 NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer National Quarterfinal when Acquista and Grassie were coaching at Adelphi University and the College of Charleston, respectively. Grassie and the Golden Eagles ultimately prevailed in penalty kicks to advance; something Acquista shared with his team following the selection show. Asked about potentially evening the score this time around, Acquista said, “This is more of a friendly competition, but it’s nice to see it, go to round two and whatever happens, happens.”

The Thundering Herd may have outshot their opponents 223-71 so far. Still, Fordham’s stout defense figures to make life difficult behind a backline that allowed just five goals in nine matches and led the A-10 in lowest opponent scoring average (.56) this season. 

The Rams enter, boasting six players who were named to the A-10 All-Championship team: Graduate student goalkeeper Josh Levine, freshman defender Galen Flynn, graduate student forward Alberto Pangrazzi, senior defender Luke McNamara, senior forward Sameer Fathazada and graduate student defender Matt Sloan. Sloan, one of the team’s four captains, was also named Most Outstanding Player of the Championship.

Punching their ticket into the NCAA Championship also earned Fordham national recognition in the most recent national top 25 rankings. Fordham is ranked 23rd in both the United Soccer Coaches and College Soccer News Poll this week while ranking 24th in TopDrawerSoccer. The Rams (7-0-2) are one of four unbeaten schools among the 36-team field alongside James Madison University, the University of New Hampshire and Loyola Marymount University.

The 2020 Division I Men’s Soccer Championship officially gets underway with four first-round matches on Thursday, April 29, before Fordham and Marshall meet on the pitch in second-round action. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on May 2 at the J. Burt Gillette Athletic Complex in Wilson, North Carolina.