Moment No. 13 on the #retriever50for50 countdown is another one of those bittersweet moments.
The sweet part was the fact, that on November 24, 2013, the men's soccer program hosted the first-ever NCAA Division I championship contest on the UMBC campus. Until that point, the season was sweet, as UMBC had posted a 16-1-2 record and was ranked in the national top 10 for a majority of the campaign. We will get to the bitter parts in a moment.
Pete Caringi's crew nearly matched its 1999 undefeated regular season, except for a freakish overtime deflection which gave Delaware a 1-0 win. The Retrievers allowed only two goals in a 5-0-2 slate against America East foes and reached the league title game by virtue of a 2-1 victory over Albany.
In the championship game at Retriever Soccer Park, UMBC overwhelmed Hartford, 4-0, winning its third America East title in four years. All was sweet, until Selection Monday…
The team, campus community and media gathered to watch the coronation on ESPN. UMBC would surely be a top ten seed, after all, the RPI and national ranking had consistently been in the top ten through October and November.
But, the celebratory mood turned more stoic, and even a bit coarse, when UMBC was tabbed as the last (No. 16) seed. Yes, the Retrievers would host, but it would likely be against a really strong U.Conn team. The Huskies did defeat Quinnipiac and the showdown was set for Retriever Soccer Park at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.
The next bitter part came via Mother Nature. Sunday rolled around, and with it, frigid, blustery conditions descended upon the Baltimore area. Nearly 1,000 fans came dressed for football weather in Green Bay. But, based on the record 5,000-plus viewers who watched on www.umbcretrievers.tv, many had to stay away.
After a scoreless first half, UConn got on the board early in the second stanza. But UMBC would respond in the 62nd minute as Geaton Caltabiano curled his effort just inside the near left post to even the score. The Huskies scored off a corner kick in the 74th minute, but three minutes later, UMBC equalized again as Mamadou Kansaye's ball toward the back post was headed in by Pete Caringi III. It was Caringi's 13th score of the season and the 37th and final of his storied career.
The final bitter chapter was written when the game went to penalty kicks. Retriever goalkeeper Phil Saunders made a save in round two and the Retrievers led, 2-1 after two rounds. But UConn converted their final three efforts, while the UConn keeper made stops on Kadeem Dacres and Caringi to close the book on the 2013 Retrievers.
But, just as they did in 2010 and 2012, UMBC bounced back from a disappointing end to a campaign with a brilliant follow-up that surpassed the prior odd-year effort. Think we may hear more about that 2014 campaign in the upcoming days/weeks?