Before the story of the 2014 UMBC men's soccer season was written, the campaign of Pete Caringi's 1999 team was considered (and is still considered by many!) the best in school history.
After all, the Retrievers posted the best record in the nation (19-1-3), won the Northeast Conference title and gave No. 1 Duke all they could handle in the Dawgs' first of five NCAA Division I Tournament appearances.
But the moment selected at No. 21 in the #retriever50for50 countdown was a 0-0 double overtime draw?
In 1998, UMBC made a decent debut in the NEC, posting a 11-7-2 record, but were soundly blanked, 4-0, by St. Francis Brooklyn in the league semifinal match. Hence, external expectations were not high when the 1999 season dawned.
But little was known outside of Baltimore about a 5'6" forward by the name of Giuliano Celenza. The junior college transfer burst onto the scene on Hilltop Circle and combined with Arizona native Ty Engram to give the Retrievers a dynamic offense.
UMBC got off to a 6-0 start, capped by a tournament victory with triumphs over UNLV and San Diego State at UNLV's Coors Classic.
After a draw in the NEC opener at league power FDU, the Retrievers won a school-record 13 straight games. Celenza (school-record 22 goals) earned NEC Player of the Year honors and the Retriever defense, backstopped by Tom Wunk and Brian Rowland permitted 10 goals in 21 contests.
A wild celebration ensued after sophomore P.J. Wakefield scored the game-winning goal before 1,650 fans at UMBC Soccer Stadium (now RSP) to give the Retrievers the NEC crown with a 2-1 win over Mt. St. Mary's.
But the job was not done. In the late 1990's a curse phrase to league champions from mid-major conference was "Play-In Game." Despite a conference title, UMBC would have to get past Patriot League champion Lafayette in Easton, Pa. on Nov. 14 to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament.
With a divided, rowdy crowd on hand, the two teams played 150 minutes of dynamic, but scoreless soccer and penalty kicks would have to decide the outcome. It started poorly, as steady midfielder Matt Gormley misfired on UMBC's opening attempt and Lafayette responded with a successful kick. But the Retrievers' next four attempts were true and a late Leopard attempt failed, sending the pk's to sudden victory.
Junior Ryan Cuomo converted to put UMBC ahead, 6-5, and the Lafayette response missed the net, sending the Retrievers to Durham.
99'ers Celenza, Rowland and fullback Andy Wells were all inducted in the UMBC Athletics Hall of Fame.
Let the UMBC GOAT debate between the '99ers and the '14ers continue!!!